LONGMONT — Back in 1999, the Skyline football team advanced all the way to the state finals before finally losing 42-6 to Green Mountain in the Class 4A state championship game.
Then the school's players, coaches, alumni and its community waited nearly two decades for the Falcons to win another playoff game. Their wait ended last Saturday.
Traveling to Pueblo for the first round of the 4A playoffs, the No. 9-seed Falcons returned having beaten No. 8 Pueblo West and having finally ended the postseason victory drought that had suppressed the program for 19 years. The achievement came on the heels of a 2017 season in which the Falcons returned to the postseason for the first time since that nearly golden campaign just before the turn of the century.
Over the past several seasons in particular, the Falcons have broken through one barrier after another. Now they face another: to keep going.
"Winning that game was huge, obviously," Falcons head coach Michael Silva said. "From where the program has been to where it is now, it felt great to get over that hump. We've just continued to grind and we've kept the right mentality for building a quality program. We had a lot of returning guys who have been through a lot and have worked really hard and we got after them down there. The challenge of showing up the way we did and showing that we can go do that to anybody is really the fight we were fighting.
"We're still fighting that fight."
The fight will get tougher when the Falcons (8-3) play No. 1 Pine Creek (10-1) in the quarterfinals on Saturday at Everly-Montgomery Field.
In contrast to Skyline's recent return to prominence, Pine Creek has played in four of the past five 4A state championship games and won three of them. Last season's runners-up, the Eagles will, however, likely be without standout tailback David Moore III. The talented junior better known as "DM3" has rushed for 1,471 yards and 17 touchdowns but injured his elbow in the Eagles' first-round blowout of Heritage this past weekend.
The Falcons will also have one other, albeit unusual, advantage on Saturday. Per the Colorado High School Activities Association rules for determining host teams in the playoffs, under which the team with the fewest home playoff games hosts, the Falcons will be playing the quarterfinals at home despite being seeded eight spots lower than the top-seeded Eagles.
"Pueblo West went really close with Pine Creek and we have all that film so knowing that we could beat Pueblo West gives us a lot of confidence," Silva said. "When you look at Pine Creek, there's not a lot of weaknesses and that's why they've been the staple in 4A for years. But the home-field advantage should also benefit us and we've been looking forward to a home playoff game for a long time."
With injuries of their own, the Falcons' powerful two-way end Austin Robison is still injured and will not play after breaking his hand against Longmont eight weeks ago. Tailback Jeremy Hollingsworth, who has rushed for 1,475 yards and 20 touchdowns, should be good to go. Nate McGregor, who started the season at quarterback but injured his ankle in the season opener, has since returned and is playing defensive end and tight end, and will also likely play quarterback in certain packages.
Sophomore Chase Silva, who took over at quarterback when McGregor was hurt, has held onto the position and has passed for 2,458 yards and 26 touchdowns. The unexpected change to the Falcons' spread offensive attack has helped keep the season going and based on the support he has received, Chase Silva believes battling adversity has helped galvanize the team.
"It's been quite the run for us so far," Chase Silva said. "We've had a couple losses but we've bounced back every time. When Nate went down the team got behind me and then when Nate came back, he just made us even better. I don't think I'd have been able to do any of it without Nate and the rest of the guys helping me out along the way. That's just the type of team we have.
"Last week was a huge win for us. We have a special group this year and we feel like if we play as well as we know we're capable of playing, we can beat anybody. It's taken a lot of hard work for us to get here and we're ready for a big home game."
That home game will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday. And both Silvas are correct in saying that it will be a big one.