BROOMFIELD – Many different times throughout his longstanding tenure as head coach of the Holy Family football team, Mike Gabriel has wondered what he did in a previous life to deserve such bad luck.
That bad luck has come in the form of untimely injuries to several standout quarterbacks over the past decade. And those injuries have punctuated a 15-year championship drought by thwarted multiple potential state title runs for the Tigers.
In both 2014 and 2015, the Tigers’ title-contending status disintegrated when star quarterback Chris Helbig, who went on to have an impressive college career, was injured prior to the postseason. Two years later, the Tigers’ hopes of a title were dashed when junior quarterback Stone Samaras was injured prior to the postseason and never played another game. A strong Tigers team’s title potential was diminished as recently as 2019 when quarterback Callahan Carter broke his collarbone, forcing Division-I tight end Kyle Helbig to slide over and make due.
But at least for now, the Tigers are heading into the postseason as healthy as they’ve been in recent memory and ready to make the most of it.
“Having less games this season might have helped us from an injury standpoint,” Gabriel said. “We haven’t had that luck in recent history. Looking at the field, we kind realized that if we stay healthy, we can make a run at this thing. And we’re pretty much good to go, knock on wood.”
Though senior quarterback Michael White has thrown for 1,145 yards and 16 touchdowns through seven games, the Tigers don’t have quite as much riding on just one player the way they did in those past years when injury bred catastrophe. This season, in fact, the Tigers are more of a running and defense team, which is unusual for a program known annually for a high-powered spread passing attack.
In 2020, the Tigers have trounced opponents with Trevin Johnson on the brink of 1,000 yards through just seven games rushing behind an offensive line that includes Boise State University commit Cord Kringlen and future college players Thomas Pittenger and Brody Welch. The Holy Family defense has allowed just 9.4 points per game.
“I think we’re fitting our defense to our personnel a little bit better this year,” Gabriel said. “We also had a couple good running backs coming back this year so we’ve worked on some stuff that gets two backs on the field and allows us to be a little a more physical behind a really good offensive line.”
As the No. 2 overall seed in the Class 3A playoffs, the Tigers (7-0) might have the most complete playoff roster they have had in years. On Saturday at noon, they will host a game against No. 6 Durango (6-0) for the state semifinals at Mike G. Gabriel Stadium.
The defense, and secondary players like Blake Neece and Oscar Sena, will be put to the test against a Demons team led by star quarterback Jordan Woolverton and running back Ben Finneseth. The pair of once-hidden gems have established themselves as two of the most deadly offensive threats in the state and will undoubtedly have a major impact on Saturday’s outcome.
“With those two guys over there, our defense has to get off the field,” Gabriel said. “We’ve really worked on that and harped on that. We want to put them in situations where it’s second-and-long, and get them out of the running game a bit. From a passing standpoint, I think we have one of the best secondaries in the state so I think we match up well. We’re still no-huddle but it’ll be big for us to keep our defense off the field with our offense and run some clock.”
Holy Family last won a state championship in 2005 and has been snakebitten time and time again in the years between then and now. The Tigers still have to win two more games to recapture the title but at least for now, it looks as though they’ll be able to finish their run mostly as the group they started with.