LONGMONT — At its best, the Longmont football team's offensive attack achieves a balance between a methodical and dynamic running game and the potential to gash opposing defenses with chunk plays with the passing attack.
The Trojans (9-3) have not achieved that balance better at any point in 2017 than they have so far in the postseason. The Trojans' running game, led by junior Drake Engelking's 5.6 yards per carry and 17 touchdowns, has been the offense's most consistent facet all season long. But with quarterback Oakley Dehning and his big-play receivers having their best two games of the season in the Class 3A playoffs, which include an upset victory over No. 1-ranked Mead last Saturday, the Trojans' offense has truly hit its stride going into the semifinals against No. 5 Erie (10-2) this weekend.
"It's really the O-line, the receivers and this team," Dehning said. "I'm a lucky quarterback in that I can just stand back there and throw it up and the receivers will go and get the ball. We strive for balance in our offense and if the other team is giving us a look we like, we'll definitely try to throw the ball down the field."
After passing for over 150 yards in just one regular-season game, Dehning threw for a season-high 224 yards and three touchdowns in a first-round win over No. 9 Skyview. He followed that performance up with 183 passing yards against top-ranked Mead in the quarterfinals.
When the ball does come a Trojans receivers' way, it's usually once he has made his way pretty far down the field. In two playoff games, leading receiver Jaydon Elkins' longest reception is 52 yards. Fellow receiver Nick Paone's longest postseason catch went for 45 yards. Danny Nichols, who also made the game-winning interception in the quarterfinals, owns a postseason receiving long of 49 yards. Other than for Paone, who has five catches over 45 yards including 66- and 71-yard touchdowns this season, those marks are also season-long bests.
"I think we've just learned to execute a little better," Paone said. "We have some weapons in the passing game and our offense is really tough when we can execute both in the run game and the pass game. We've been spreading it out a little bit more and getting our athletes the ball out in open space. Our run game is great and when we pass the ball, we're trying to get a big play out of it."
On top of making plays down the field, playing wide receiver for the Trojans entails wearing many hats. Paone and Nichols also start at defensive back. Alongside Engelking and fellow back Cruz Garcia in the Trojans' veer option offense, Elkins in particular plays a significant role in the rushing game when the Trojans run jet sweeps.
"I like the role that I'm in," Elkins said. "It gives me more chances to make plays with the ball in my hands in the open field. Being in the slot, it's easier for me to run my routes and get open because a lot of the corners key on the outside guys. Our jet, we run it both ways with me and Cruz. The way we use a lot of different guys, it's hard for the defense to just focus on one or two guys."
The Trojans' season has had its ups and downs, for certain. After winning their season opener over three-time defending 3A champion Pueblo East, they lost three straight games. Rebounding from that rough patch, the Trojans have now won eight in a row, and have upset the No. 1-ranked team in the state on three separate occasions this season.
On Saturday, the Trojans will play for a spot in the 3A state championship game.
"We hit a rough spot early in the year and it kind of woke us up," Dehning said. "It made us realize where we had to get to. That three-game slide earlier in the year really was a benefit to us because it forced us to get everything together so we could get to where we are now."