LONGMONT — With its powerful offense, the Silver Creek football team had regular-season games they thought they could win simply by piling up the points.
But in the Class 3A playoffs, offense alone won’t cut it.
“Right now, there is no doubt that our defense’s ability to stop the run throughout the playoffs will determine how far we go,” Raptors head coach Mike Apodaca said.
Preparing for a quarterfinals matchup with No. 11-seeded Lewis-Palmer, the No. 3 Raptors’ postseason future is in the defense’s hands. And defensive linemen Ben Wooching and Trace Gray are the key.
“They’ve led by example since they’ve been here,” Apodaca said. “They love the game of football. They’re born and bread to play football. It’s never been their second sport so everything they did throughout high school was about becoming better football players.”Wooching lines up at tackle at 6-foot, 300 pounds. Gray is 6-foot-3, 222 lbs. and plays on the end, but will move inside if needed. They’re not just there to eat up space in the middle. They’re athletic and either can play the run as well as the pass.
Wherever they go, Wooching and Gray cause havoc for offenses. But Apodaca’s favorite thing about the Raptors’ senior captains is they compete against one another.
“They’re both wanting to be the best,” Apodaca said. “That competition level just amps both of them up to play at a high level.”Having played nearly every sport together since sixth grade, each delights in outdoing the other.
“Being such good friends and all, we have competitions to see who has the biggest hits and who makes the most plays,” Gray said. “That keeps the competition going and as leaders, when all the action starts, we set the tone.”Gray has 78 tackles on the season, Wooching has 58. Gray has seven sacks, Wooching has four. Wooching leads the team with six pass deflections, Gray has two. Together, they’ve caused four fumbles and recovered four more.Whoever wins their private competition, the Raptors defense has allowed just 14.8 points per game this season.
“Obviously, if you can’t stop the run or the pass, then they’re gonna score more points than you,” Wooching said. “It’s been a huge success. You don’t blow teams out 41-7 without only giving up seven points.”This Saturday against Lewis-Palmer, Gray and Wooching intend to set a defensive tone from the outset.
“It’s really important for us to set the tempo early,” Wooching said. “If we do that, the rest of the guys follow. If we’re not intense, the linebackers aren’t intense, the DBs aren’t intense and it just trickles down throughout the entire time.”Apodaca told his team three things would determine its postseason fate: the ability to stop the run on defense, running the football on offense and control the special teams game. His players will have to do all those things to advance to the state semifinals.
Gray and Wooching don’t intend to let their personal competition interfere with stopping Lewis-Palmer’s disciplined, option-oriented attack. Both three-year starters understand the dangers of over-pursuing and going for a big play against a tricky offense like they’ll see Saturday.
“Discipline,” Gray said. “It’s all about doing your job and if you do your job, and other people do their jobs, someone’s gonna make the play.