Football: Broomfield passing game continues to be effective

Jonathan Castner / For the Camera
Broomfield’s Ryan Mazzola, right, is is averaging 17 yards a catch this season.

A large part of Broomfield’s success this football season has stemmed from being able to create turnovers while not making that many mistakes of their own.

And with a new quarterback at the helm — and a young one at that in sophomore Steven Croell — the idea the Broomfield passing game is playing at a level the program has not seen in a long time is quite astonishing.

There’s a lot of newness all around to the pass attack, actually, and they simply aren’t making a lot of mistakes. The Eagles have Croell, who started the season backing up senior Mason Keeler at the position, and senior Ryan Mazzola leading the way for targets after not having a catch in any previous year of varsity play.

The playbook has opened up a bit under first year coach Blair Hubbard, and members of the team were excited from the beginning at the potential turn from the run-first attack.

“All through the summer, Mason and Steve took an equal number of reps … and once Mason went down (with injury) I don’t think anyone doubted Steven couldn’t come in and so the things he needed to,” Hubbard said as the Eagles (9-2) are preparing for a 4A quarterfinal against Ponderosa (Echo Park Stadium, 1 p.m.). “Nothing really has changed for our receivers or the backs and they just kept doing what they do. Steven has gotten the ball to them, and that’s allowed us to do a lot of things.”

Croell has been buoyed along by the likes of tight end Garrett Betty and Tanner Garner, both of which had a lot of targets in 2015. But that’s where the experience stops. In addition to Mazzola, Keeler and Tyler Lefkowicz have been used a lot even though they didn’t come into the season with a lot of receiving numbers on varsity.

Lefkowicz is actually a running back, along with Garner. Often he is split out to the slot, and he along with some others are taking advantage of the attention that Mazzola draws.

“Going into the summer, I didn’t know a whole lot about the passing game other than watching a little film from when (Hubbard) was at Faith Christian,” said Lefkowicz, a senior who is averaging about 11 yards per reception. “There’s a lot of rocket, that sweep play around the edge; I didn’t really know the slots were going to be a huge part. I think it’s a deadly weapon, especially because Ryan is out there at the wide receiver position. The better players are going to be covering him, and some of those slower guys or the safeties will be covering us from the off. It presents a good opportunity to get the ball and make plays.”

Broomfield, whose two losses have come by a combined six points, has averaged about 165 yards a game through the air and 200 on the ground. Only in the win against Loveland was the air attack completely silenced.

While Keeler threw the ball 30 times in the season opener against Legacy before suffering an injury the following game that put Croell in the spotlight, the Eagles have not shied away from letting loose a little bit.

Mazzola is averaging 17 yards a catch, which is right at what Croell is averaging per completion as a whole while sporting a 56 percent completion rate.

“I’ve played receiver every year of high school but just never made that starting spot in past years. But I really worked to refine my skills over the summer, my technique and what I could bring to the table,” Mazzola, one of the best two-way players in the area, said. “I did a lot of 7-on-7 work which really helped me with confidence coming back against Colorado (defensive backs).”

Most significantly, Croell has but two interceptions thrown compared to 19 touchdowns. That includes the two touchdowns he threw in last week’s win against Heritage, hitting Keeler and Garner for scores of 29 and 32 yards.

“I knew from the start the Steven was a great player, and that he was going to be accurate,” Lefkowicz said.

Facing Ponderosa will offer some challenges that a more balanced team like Broomfield could be able to overcome. The Mustangs (10-1) were stingy on defense in posting five shutouts, but they have only played a select few teams with the Eagles’ overall capabilities.

“Their defense is very aggressive, so we have to make sure we have our eyes up at all times,” Hubbard said of Ponderosa. “Defensively, they’re a very Windsor-type team with the style they play.”

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