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Football: Boulder’s transformations leaves it on title game doorstep

Panthers play in Class 5A state semifinals Saturday at Recht Field

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    Boulder High School senior quarterback Alvin Rodriguez (2) hands off to senior running back Parker Patchett (34) during a team practice on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    Boulder High School head coach Ryan Bishop works with senior defensive end Elijah Graham (49) during a team practice on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    The Boulder High School varsity football team practices on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

  • Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer

    Boulder High School senior running back Parker Patchett (34) runs up the gut during a team practice on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

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Boulder junior Tristan Langenegger said he had been specializing at quarterback for the past two seasons, yet as the school’s football program embraced a multitude of changes this spring, he too looked to adapt.

“I came into the season knowing very well that I was most likely going to be a backup quarterback, but I knew I had the athletic talents to play somewhere else (on the field),” Langenegger said. “I asked around and a lot of coaches advised me to try out some other positions. And safety and wide receiver is where I fit best.”

After opting out of the traditional fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Panthers transformed from a program that hadn’t reached the postseason in the past six years, into the epitome of a team finally turning the corner, as they’re just one win away from their first title game appearance in 29 years.

Now, winners of five games for only the second time in the last 17 seasons, they host Denver East Saturday at Recht Field in the 5A semifinals.

What changed? Beside the pandemic-obvious? A new, collective buy-in from players, for one.

“I think it comes from our coaching staff,” Boulder coach Ryan Bishop said. “We all want to be there. We’re all having fun. This is a game to us that is special. And so, the kids see that, and we instill in them the importance of flying around and having fun and playing together. And again, the seniors have bought in from what we’ve been telling them the past three or four seasons.”

For his part, Langenegger has taken hold of an opportunity at wide receiver, but where he’s really shined is as the team’s ball-hawking safety. He currently leads Boulder with five interceptions in five games.

Boulder High School junior Tristan Langenegger ...
Tim Hurst/Staff Photographer
Boulder’s Tristan Langenegger, seen here in the Panthers’ opening game against Mountain Range, is excelling at safety and leads the team with five interceptions including two in a playoff win against Fort Collins last week.

Still relatively green at the position, it’s been nice for Langenegger that the Panthers switched to a simpler defensive scheme this spring. It’s a system that has freed up players to react more on instinct and play with high energy.

Langenegger’s quarterback training has helped, too. And with his help, the Panthers have proven to be one of the strongest defenses in 2021, allowing just seven points per game.

In a 21-14 Round 1 win over Fort Collins last Friday, Langenegger had two interceptions as the defense came away with a total of five takeaways. In all, they’ve forced 16 turnovers this season.

“Everyone has their own job on the field and everyone has their own thing to worry about,” Langenegger said. “We get into trouble when we go and try to do two jobs at once. … There’s a lot of trust that goes into it. So, a couple times in practice, when we try to do too many things, or play our own game, it doesn’t work out.”

And while the spring only featured 12 5A teams, none of whom could really be considered among the state’s perennial powers, it’d be hard to take much away from this run by the Panthers, who’ve gone undefeated despite a carousel of outside-football challenges.

Among them, Boulder started its season in a team quarantine, then had its home opener just seven days following the mass shooting at a nearby Kings Soopers on March 22. From there, each of its scheduled games in the regular season were either moved or canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. Its regular-season finale against Adams City was then played in a blizzard as the heavy spring powder went up to players’ shins.

“There were a bunch of situations that weren’t in our control,” Langenegger said. “We played every game thinking it was our last game. We gave it our all, we gave us the advantage, and we wanted it more than the other teams did.”

No. 4 Boulder vs. No. 8 Denver East

Details: Recht Field, Saturday, 6 p.m.

Outlook: After consecutive blowout wins, the Panthers survived in the first round against Fort Collins last week. The Lambkins had three possessions in the fourth quarter to try for a tying touchdown, but never could break through. Their final drive stalled around the Panthers’ 20 as the clock expired. Denver East, meanwhile, pulled off a stunning, 8-over-1-seed upset in a 21-14 win over crosstown rival Denver South. The top-seeded Ravens scored 14 in the final quarter to tie the game with four minutes remaining. The Angels went back ahead with their third rushing TD in the final seconds.

Who to watch for Boulder: Drake Arthur. The guy can do it on both ends of the field. Heck, he’s proven he can do it on the court, too. Fresh off being a part of BoCoPreps’ all-region basketball team, the gifted athlete leads the Panthers in receiving — with 312 yards and three TDs on 16 receptions — and in tackles, with 60 (12 per game). He also has four sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. Showing his football dexterity in Round 1 Friday, he crashed the backfield to stop a fourth-down rush on the goal line, then a bit later, he flew over the top of the defense and caught a long touchdown from the running back Parker Patchett.

Who to watch for Denver East: Isaiah Davis. The junior has been the Angels’ most-utilized offensive threat. He leads the team in rushing attempts (65), yards on the ground (317) and is tied for the team lead in receptions (25). He had a team-high 23 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Denver South Friday.