The Longmont Trojans easily could have folded.
Through four games, little had gone right in what was supposed to be a promising 2014 campaign. They opened the season with a long road trip, only to suffer through a miserable trip home after a lopsided defeat. A turnover-plagued loss to local rival Broomfield two weeks later, followed by a tough six-point loss at Fort Collins, left that promising season staring in the face of a 1-3 mark.
Folding, however, just wasn’t in the cards.
Instead the Trojans enter the Class 4A state tournament as one of the hottest teams in the bracket. Longmont may have garnered only a No. 7 seed due to the team’s early foibles, but with six straight wins and a Longs Peak League title in the can, the Trojans have the look of a team peaking at the right time heading into Friday night’s tournament opener at home against 10th-seeded Pueblo Centennial.
The top reason behind the abrupt turnaround? It simply was the mindset of the players, according to head coach Doug Johnson.
“When you get beat up, you can get better or you can get worse,” Johnson said. “Sometimes that forces you to pick what side of the fence you’re on. I think we all got on the same side of the fence. We’ve also had some stability at some positions that we didn’t have at the beginning of the year.”
Chief among those positions that have settled in during the winning streak has been the offensive line. After changing parts like puzzle pieces at the outset of the season due to injuries and eligibility issues, the offensive line has featured the same starting lineup the past five games.
The unit has been equally adept at protecting quarterback Clint Sigg, who has brushed off early turnover issues by throwing only one interception during the winning streak, as they have been at clearing holes for a Conlan Berger-led rushing attack that is averaging nearly 200 yards a game.
However, it has been the defense that has been the bedrock of the 2014 Trojans.
The six-game winning streak has been marked by a pair of shutouts — an impressive 14-0 win at Loveland and a 42-0 victory against Adams City. The unit has allowed more than 14 points just once in the past five games, and the unit has displayed a knack for making big plays. Junior defensive back Cooper Rothe leads 4A with seven interceptions, while collectively the Trojans have recorded 23 sacks and 14 takeaways.
“The biggest thing was just believing in ourselves that we can do whatever we want to,” Rothe said. “Once we realized that, and once we started executing and doing what the coaches wanted us to do, we started playing better. We had to get more serious at practice, and it’s working right now.”
The rugged Longmont defense will be challenged Friday night by the equally rugged rushing attack of Pueblo Centennial. Rothe probably won’t have many opportunities to pad his interception total against a team that has attempted only 42 passes all season, but the Trojans will have their hands full trying to slow a Bulldogs running game averaging 365.8 yards a game. Centennial seniors Quincy Kindred (1,597) and Caleb Miranda (1,414) each have surpassed the 1,400-yard mark and have forced to Trojans to focus on honing their tackling skills this week.
“Our defensive mindset is to just fly around and hit some people,” said junior linebacker Logan Goodner, Longmont’s leading tackler. “When we do that, we give our offense a chance to get the ball into the end zone. When they do that, we get to go back and do it for them again.
“(Pueblo Centennial) has some really good running backs, but we have some really good defensive backs and linebackers and a good D-line. As long as we execute and have a high intensity level, I don’t see why we can’t shut them out like we have with other teams.”
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