BROOMFIELD — There is one player that personifies the Broomfield Eagles and the toughness they have shown over the last six weeks.
Senior linebacker Noah Jenson — the heart and soul of the Eagles' Dark Side defense — is that guy.
On the first play of Saturday's quarterfinal game against Loveland, Jenson banged his hand on the Indians running back and immediately knew something wasn't right.
"I was like 'Oh man, I can't close my hand'," he said.
It was more than just rub-some-dirt-on-it kind of injury too. He had broken his hand. But that wasn't about to stop him from getting back on the field.
"Once they said they could put a cast on it real quick and let me come back out," Jenson said, "I said that's what we are going to do then."
It is the epitome of the toughness and grit Broomfield has shown on its six game winning streak that has landed them in the Class 4A state semifinals this Saturday in the Steel City against Pueblo South at Dutch Clark Stadium.
And while players like Jenson and Drew Worthley — whose big sack of Loveland quarterback Riley Kinney in the final moments of regulation was instrumental in getting the Eagles to overtime — are the pulse on the field, it's the behind the scenes work of defensive coordinator Robert O'Brien that is really what makes them go.
O'Brien, a 2004 graduate of Monarch and a member of the Coyotes 2002 championship team, didn't waste a lot of time getting into the coaching ranks. At age 19, he joined the staff at University High in Greeley and has been at it ever since.
"He's just a very charismatic coach and you want that in a defensive coordinator. He is the opposite of me and I like that balance because he brings that excitement that exuberance in practice and in games," Broomfield head coach Blair Hubbard said. "He does a good job of preparing the guys. He's a film junky, he loves breaking it down and looking for tendencies and looking for any weakness that the offense is showing."
That love for breaking down the film goes all the way back to his playing days and learning from Phil Bravo and his longtime defensive coordinator Aaron Paddock.
"I played for and learned a lot from Phil Bravo and Aaron Paddock; and I give them a majority of the credit for my development. (Paddock) does a phenomenal job in and out every year with that team," O'Brien said. " A lot of what I do goes to AP, but to be honest with you it is watching what other teams do well and trying to incorporate what they do well into our scheme. What blitzes work, what coverages work and how we can utilize what some teams do."
O'Brien's youthful exuberance is palpable both in practice and on game day and it feeds his players, who seem to play every down like their hair is on fire.
How good have the Eagles been on the defensive side of the ball the last six weeks? In the five games leading up to the Loveland rematch, Broomfield had surrendered 21 points ... but upon deeper investigation, one touchdown came on a punt return against Grand Junction and another was on the second team against Greeley West in garbage time.
"They are playing lights out and they still are," O'Brien said. "We weren't exactly happy with how we played on Saturday. We were extremely happy with the win and the effort, but we feel like we could have executed a little better on the defensive side of the ball."
It was a drastic change from the opening six weeks of the season, where the Eagles were still in the process of incorporating new players and first year varsity players to their scheme. But once it clicked ...
"I think we instilled the will to win," Jenson said. "All of our guys decided that once we started playing like a team that we could really do some damage."
Said O'Brien of the turnaround: "We went into the season resting on our laurels, so to speak, and last year everything clicked, fell into place and it just sort of rolled. And I don't want to say the word easy, because that is definitely not what it was, but it felt natural and it just rolled. This year we came in expecting the same thing and we were quickly awaken of the fact that it takes a lot of hard work and effort. We continued to fight with our backs against the wall."
And it has them right back in the semifinals with a chance to return to Sports Authority Field at Mile High in a week.