On the scales of success, the 2002 and 2005 Holy Family football teams measure out equally. Both teams finished their respective seasons with the Class 2A state championship trophy in hand — the triumphs by definition why young men and women play high school sports.
The journeys by which those teams came to their grand end destinations could not have been any different.
Sure, character shown in different ways but it was character nonetheless that drove both groups to glory. For the 2002 team, a breakthrough season will forever be remembered for its perfect run, back-to-back victories over nemesis Faith Christian and Denver Christian early on, and a dominant playoff performance.
For the 2005 team, just getting into the playoffs by fortune was all it took to go on one of the more lightning-in-a-bottle type runs that Colorado has ever seen. As a No. 16 seed, the 2005 Tigers overcame the odds, won their second- and third-round playoff games by a combined five points, and beat Nate Solder’s Buena Vista in a title game that had HFHS players feeling like they were invincible.
“We had confidence that we could pull off the impossible after beating Faith Christian (in the semifinals)” said Paul Schietinger, a 2007 graduate. “It was a wild ride.”
The Tigers were mired in averageness for years while stationed at their old campus in Denver, legendary coach Mike G. Gabriel admits. Moving to Broomfield opened up more opportunities for expansion in the student body, and the athletics teams followed suit in becoming all the more competitive (Holy Family has won 15 team state championships since 2000-01).
Fortunes began to turn for the Tigers in 2001, when All-Colorado senior quarterback Bob Bell helped guide the team to its first CHSAA playoff win, and then another, before losing in the semifinals to Eaton. Bell’s inevitable absence the following year raised some doubts about a repeat, but 2003 graduate Andrew Davenport said he never questioned the team’s leadership, nor its talent, when the 2002 season commenced.
Then, the Denver Christian game solidified the Tigers’ faith.
“An awesome memory … we gave up a touchdown to give up the lead with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, and with a quarterback who I think it was his third game … it was kind of like, oh, not again,” Davenport said. “We had always lost to a lot of these teams in the past. But it was a real turning point in the season because we marched down the field and our all-state receiver Tom Doane caught a touchdown pass basically as time expired. We got to do the rushing the field thing. That was a big one because it gave belief to a team that had perennially struggled against those upper echelon teams in the Metro League.”
Gabriel said he was always surprised with how under-the-radar the Tigers’ ground game was. In 2002, it was Gabe Bush-Luna and Teddy Ariniello providing a thunder-and-lightning attack. Meanwhile, first-year starting quarterback Dustin Jorgenson was still slinging the football for 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Holy Family cruised through three rounds of playoffs in 2002, including beating defending champ Burlington by 20 out on the eastern plains with a whole town watching. In the championship, it was all defense as Holy Family secured a 14-7 win against Eaton.
“Every other coach always wanted to talk about our pass game … but we were 60 run, 40 pass and I have the stat books somewhere around to prove it,” Gabriel said. “Our biggest lineman back then was probably 220 pounds, but we were always able to gain the edge on teams.”
Added Davenport: “We were throwing the ball probably 35 to 40 times a game my junior year, but my senior year is was more like 20 to 22 times a game. The value of having starting depth all over, and a lot of leadership, helped us get through the growing pains of having a new starting quarterback.”
The 2004 team nearly ran the table again, but a title-game loss to Faith had a lingering effect for Schietinger and company. The 2005 Eagles went 6-3 but more importantly were out of the top two Metro League automatic bids at the time. Mere percentage points provided the Tigers with the final seed in the playoffs, and the team ran with the new life given them.
After ousting top-seeded Pagosa Springs in the opening round — handily, at that — the Tigers eventually met up against Faith in the semis. Scheitinger recalled that being every bit as intense as a championship tilt, and the 10-7 final score indicated as much.
“Faith kicked our (behinds) in the regular season, and (assistant) coach Brad Baier kind of made it his mission to shut them down,” Schietinger said. “I remember the week leading up to Faith, we practiced so hard, turning on the (stadium) lights because we went so late, studying during lunchtime. At that point, we knew every single move for their offense. We revamped our defense for that one … that was a nailbiter in a lot of ways. In all regards, that was the championship right there.”
Solder, who now has nine years of experience in the NFL, towered over everyone at the state title game, and Buena Vista was a talented team. But the Tigers were not to be denied as they got to play at home, winning rather easily 35-20. And with that, the 2005 team had distinguished itself as one of the more fantastic championship teams the state has seen.
“When we first got into the public school league, we took drubbings for years,” Gabriel said. “We hit a playoff every now and then. When we moved up north and we were able to start growing, that’s when teams really took off and we had really great kids up there.
“In 2005, we were devasted (about the regular season record) and they were ready to hang up their equipment and everything. But we got that wild card, and they sat down as a team and said, we’ve got this opportunity and we’re not going to blow it. They really did believe it. The leaders were across the board — seniors, sophomores and juniors on that team. A very unusual team in that way … and they had a goal and went after it.”
Details of the Dynasty: Holy Family football
Coach: Mike G. Gabriel
Dynasty years: After less than a handful of playoff appearances since 1978, Holy Family emerged as a small-school powerhouse between 2001 and 2007 with two state championships (2002, 2005), a state runner-up showing (2004) and three other semifinals appearances. The 2002 team went a perfect 13-0.
Major players: Among many, Koeler Anderson, Teddy Ariniello, Gabe Bush-Luna, Pat Chappell, Andrew Davenport, Chris Demmon, Tom Doane, Barry Dunn, Dustin Jorgenson, Ben Kubistek, Dan Langfield, Mike Langfield, Justin Mack, Andy Maul, Paul Schietinger, Tim Stockhausen, Jesse Trujillo, Matt Ward.
Most dominant moment: While the improbable 2005 run showed guts and ended in glory, the 2002 team certainly gains respect as the team that brought the program to new heights. They outscored teams in the playoffs 126-41, ousted the defending champions (Burlington) on the road and then came back home to get playoff revenge against Eaton in the title game.