Class 5A-3A football preview capsules in the Colorado Springs area: Will Pine Creek climb back to the top?

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Photo - Pine Creek went 12-1 last season, not losing until the state semifinals. (Gazette file)
Pine Creek went 12-1 last season, not losing until the state semifinals. (Gazette file)

Our preview of Class 5A - 3A schools in the Colorado Springs area.

CLASS 5A

MOUNT MASSIVE

Doherty

Coach: Jeff Krumlauf

Last season: 5-5, lost in first round of playoffs

Key players: Alex Pyzola, sr., DL (first-team all-conference), Zander Offutt, sr., QB; Justin Ragland, sr., WR; Joe Golden, jr., TE/DE; Jon Bodholdt, jr., DL; Alijah Bates, soph., OL/DL

What to know: Doherty's success in a new conference, which features Denver powerhouses Grandview and Arapahoe, will depend on its ability to replace Tequan Baker, who tallied 44 percent of the Spartans' all-purpose yards last season. Zander Offutt will have to take the next step at quarterback, while Alex Pyzola (15 tackles for loss in 2015) will anchor an experienced defense full of seniors.

MOUNT LINCOLN

Fountain-Fort Carson

Coach: Jake Novotny

Last season: 7-4, lost in first round of playoffs

Key players: D'Jimon O'Neil, sr., WR; Jace Christian, sr., QB; Mitchel Hale, sr., OL; Eric Donnell, jr., RB; Kendryk Rankin, sr., DL; JR Pearson, sr., DL

What to know: After 37 years, the Mitch Johnson era is over at Fountain-Fort Carson, and Jake Novotny has some large shoes to fill. Luckily, the Trojans return 1,000-yard rusher Eric Donnell and one of the best wide receivers in the state in D'Jimon O'Neil (eight touchdowns last season). New starting quarterback Jace Christian has seen limited reps at the position his first three years, and will need to pick up Novotny's new offensive system in a hurry.

4A

FOOTHILLS

Cheyenne Mountain

Coach: Willie Roberts

Last season: 2-8

Key players: Matthew Betterson, sr., QB/DB (Second-team all-conference); Zachary Garrard, sr., LB/RB (first-team all-conference); Steven Hooks, sr., WR/LB (second-team all-conference); Zac Baker, sr., WR/LB (second-team all-conference)

What to know: Two seasons after having to forfeit games due to lack of players, Cheyenne Mountain is hoping to continue trending upward. Quarterback Matthew Betterson tallied more than 1,200 all-purpose yards and scored 12 touchdowns last season, and has his top three receivers back. Zachary Garrard is one of the best linebackers in the area (112 tackles last season) and leads a defense that looks to improve after giving up 35 points per game last year.

Liberty

Coach: Marc Sites

Last season: 5-5

Key players: Cole Pelt, sr., RB/LB; Caleb Kizewski, sr., WR/DB; Jake Felton, sr., WR/DB; Gerald Rushing, sr., RB/LB; Isaiah Allen, sr., WR/DB; Tyler Sturghill, sr., TE/LB

What to know: Liberty started 3-0 last season, before a four-game losing streak took it off the tracks. Colt Pelt, who averaged 5.8 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns in 2015, returns as the main offensive threat. The Lancers will need to replace a three-year starting quarterback, and rebuild the offensive line to be successful this season, but did have improved offseason participation over the summer.

Sand Creek

Coach: David Ramirez

Last season: 0-10

Key players: Damon Murdock, jr. QB; Nicholas Quarles, jr., TE/LB; Peter Hong, sr., FB/LB; Sio Saipaia, jr., OL/DL; Anthony Colby, sr., WR/DB; Kyhree Stevenson, jr., WR/DB

What to know: Last season was not pretty for the Scorpions, as they not only went winless, but were outscored by an average of 41-17. However, new coach David Ramirez - who led Pueblo East to the 3A state championship in 2014 - is hoping to bring a new attitude and renewed sense of pride to the program. Quarterback Damon Murdock took all the first-team reps as a sophomore last season, and should be ready to lead the offense.

PIKES PEAK

Coronado

Coach: Rob Wetta

Last season: 1-9

Key players: Toby Smith, jr., QB; Justin Dwinell, jr., WR; Gavin Cade, sr., DE/OT; Franklin Thurlow, jr., DB/WR

What to know: After winning the 3A state title in 2013 and making the playoffs in 4A in 2014, things unraveled for the Cougars last season. Rob Wetta is hoping the second year under his offensive scheme will produce more points than the 97 Coronado mustered in 2015. The Cougars will be a relatively young team, but have some playmakers at wide receiver for quarterback Toby Smith to work with.

Palmer

Coach: Jeff Priestley

Last season: 4-6

Key players: Adonis Rufran, sr., WR/FS; Dan Martinez, sr., WR/FS; Anthony Grassi, sr., WR/S Anthony; Dillon Tuminelli, sr., OG/DL; Jordyn Gilbert, sr., OT/DE; Billy Wallisch, sr., QB

What to know: The Terrors return an outstanding group of athletic receivers, who all have a lot of experience. Adonis Rufran and Dan Martinez combined for more than 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, and are hoping to click with new starting quarterback Billy Wallisch to provide an explosive offense. Palmer has some key offensive line spots to fill where players will have to develop quickly, and the defense will feature many new faces as well.

Rampart

Coach: Rob Royer

Last season: 5-5

Key players: Joey Williams, sr., WR/S; Adam Burtschi, sr., OL/DL; Jon Kitazono, sr., OL/DL; Xavi Bishop-Falu, sr., RB/DB; Keion Cross, jr., QB

What to know: Rampart was 4-1 in nonconference play to open last season, but then went 1-4 in the 4A PPAC and missed the playoffs. Xavi Bishop-Falu returns after leading the team in rushing with 731 yards last season. Keion Cross moves from running back to quarterback, and has Joey Williams as a solid No. 1 option at receiver. The Rams should be strong on the offensive line and put up a good amount of points again this season, but success will depend on improvement of the defense, which gave up an average of 41 points in the five losses last season.

No report: Vista Ridge

SOUTHERN

Air Academy

Coach: Scott Grinde

Last season: 3-7

Key players: Max Raber, jr., QB; Huck Vollmar, sr., LB/OL; Jeremiah Ratliff, sr., DE/TE; Niko DelPontone, sr., DB/RB; Troyer Morse, jr., SS/TE

What to know: After a tough 2015 season, Air Academy is hoping to lay the foundation of a successful program under first-year coach Scott Grinde. The Kadets have implemented a pass-happy offense in recent years, but lost their quarterback, top three receivers and No. 1 running back. Air Academy's nonconference schedule is manageable, and Grinde is hoping a culture change and a new mindset will help the team early on.

Mesa Ridge

Coach: Rob Braaten

Last season: 5-5

Key players: Onyx Rowland, sr., OL/DL; Kaleb Gaster, sr., OL/DL; Dylan Mileto, sr., QB/DB; Dante Johnson, sr., RB/DB; John Hubbard, jr., RB/LB; Ju-Wan Edgerton, jr., WR/DB

What to know: The Grizzlies let a golden opportunity to make the playoffs slip away last year. They started 4-2 and were in prime position for a conference title and postseason berth before losing three of the last four games. Starting quarterback Dylan Mileto threw one pass last season, and will hope Dante Johnson and John Hubbard can replace 1,000-yard rusher Dominick Fletcher. The good news for Mesa Ridge is that it has offensive and defensive lines that will feature mostly experienced juniors and seniors.

Pine Creek

Coach: Todd Miller

Last season: 12-1, lost in state semifinals

Key players: Brock Domann, sr., QB; Collin Willis, sr., SS; Peter Isais, sr., WR; Bo Epperson, sr., LB

What to know: JoJo Domann is off to play at Nebraska, but the Eagles are still in good shape with his younger brother Brock running the offense under center. Brock threw for 1,886 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, and added 398 rushing yards and five more scores. Bo Epperson and Collin Willis will step into leadership roles on defense, and Pine Creek should be right back in the discussion for the 4A state championship.

Widefield

Coach: Nic Olney

Last season: 1-9

Key players: TJ Davis, jr., QB; Doug Barnes, jr., OL/DL; Nate Miller, sr., OL/LB; Shaun Skinner, sr., OL/DL; Frankie Ingraldi, soph., RB/LB; Nathan Daniel, jr., RB/LB

What to know: Former St. Mary's coach Nic Olney takes the helm at Widefield, looking to turn the program around. Olney inherits a talented playmaker at quarterback in TJ Davis, who took all the first-team reps last season and also was the second-leading rusher for the Gladiators. Widefield returns three of its top five tacklers from last year's defense, led by linebacker Nate Miller.

3A

EAST METRO

Palmer Ridge

Coach: Tom Pulford

Last season: 8-4, lost in state quarterfinals

Key players: Greyson Matalus, sr., OLB/TE; Jack Harper, sr., LB/RB

What to know: The Bears are coming off of the best season in school history, but coach Tom Pulford has a total rebuild on his hands in 2016. Palmer Ridge lost essentially its entire offense to graduation, including one of the top quarterbacks in the state in Isaiah Sanders. The Bears lost their top four rushers from 2015, and Jack Harper will need to step into that role, while also helping lead the defense with fellow linebacker Greyson Matalus.

SOUTHERN

Cañon City

Coach: Tom O'Rourke

Last season: 4-6

Key players: Luke Nethercot, sr., QB; Dacian Sullivan, sr., WR/DB; Kadin Porter, jr., RB/LB

What to know: The Tigers are coming off their first losing season in a decade, but have the talent to get back to the playoffs this season. Quarterback Logan Nethercot had a 23-5 touchdown to interception ratio last season, and completed 72 percent of his passes. He has his two main weapons back in running back Kadin Porter and do-it-all athlete Dacian Sullivan. If Cañon City can fill some holes on the offensive and defensive lines, it will be able to compete at a high level.

Discovery Canyon

Coach: Shawn Mitchell

Last season: 7-5, lost in state quarterfinals

Key players: Josh Tomjack, sr., RB/LB (first-team all-conference RB); Colt O'Connell, sr., FB/LB (second-team all-conference RB); Sterling Watkins, sr., WR/DB (first-team all-conference DB); Tyler McFarland, sr., QB/DB; Ryan Weber, sr., OT/DE (first-team all-conference DL); Josh Umiamaka, sr., OT/DE (first-team all-conference OL)

What to know: The Thunder threw the football 42 times all last season, and ran it 474 times. It's an understatement to say the team loves to ground and pound the opposing defense. With the graduation of Matt Call and his 1,188 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, Discovery Canyon will use a stable of experienced running backs led by Josh Tomjack (917 yards and 13 touchdowns) and Colt O'Connell (885 yards and five touchdowns). If the Thunder defense can get the ball back for the offense and allow it to wear opponents down, it'll be another big season.

Falcon

Coach: Terry Poirier

Last season: 4-6

Key players: Carson Bush, sr., FB/LB; Collin Kamp, sr., FB/LB; Jalen Hernandez, sr., WR/DB; Zion Littlejohn, sr., QB/DB; Jarrod Cordes, sr., DE/OT; David Palmer, sr., DB

What to know: Falcon is dropping down from 4A to 3A, and with the talent it has shown in the past, could vie for the state title right away. The Falcons lost their top passer and rusher to graduation, but return No. 1 receiver Jalen Hernandez (seven touchdowns) and linebacker Carson Bush (67 tackles, eight for loss). Falcon has been a player in the 4A playoff picture for the past several years, and should be a threat with the move to a lower classification.

Lewis-Palmer

Coach: Dustin Tupper

Last season: 7-4, lost in first round of playoffs

Key players: Jordan Brines, sr., LB (first-team all-conference); Jared Pope, sr., LB (first-team all-conference); Michael Corkill, sr.; Charley Young, sr., FB; Kevin Tims, jr., QB; Ryan Oliver, sr., OL/DL

What to know: There was a lot of scoring when Lewis-Palmer played last season. The Rangers averaged 34 points on offense, and gave up 29 per game on defense. They were able to win enough shootouts to qualify for the playoffs, where they lost to eventual 3A state champ Pueblo East in the first round. L-P lost one of the top rushers in the state in Nick Pavlik, and will turn to Charley Young - one of the toughest backs around - to help make up for the 1,586 yards and 24 touchdowns Pavlik tallied last season. First-team all-conference linebackers Jordan Brines and Jared Pope lead an improved defense.

Mitchell

Coach: Corey Anderson

Last season: 4-6

Key players: Ke'shawn Stover, sr., RB/S; Isaac Davis, sr., LB/RB; Quindell Bryant, sr., LB/FB; Ty Williams, sr., OLB/RB; Sean Cooper, sr., QB; Shannon Hall, sr., LB/FB

What to know: It was a disappointing end to a season that began with so much promise for the Marauders in 2015. Mitchell started 4-1, and seemed on track for a playoff appearance, but lost its last five games. The good news is the team returns a loaded backfield, including Ke'shawn Stover (1,469 yards and nine touchdowns) and Isaac Davis (649 yards and four touchdowns). Senior quarterback Sean Cooper, who threw for 999 yards and 11 scores in 2015, also returns, giving Mitchell a potent offensive attack.

Woodland Park

Coach: Joe Roskam

Last season: 4-6

Key players: Orion Drummond, sr., LB; Dan Knapp, sr., LB; Christian Cox, sr., QB; Jake Seib, sr., DE/TE; Dominic Roskam, jr., RB/DB; Zach Spradlin, sr., OL

What to know: Senior linebackers Orion Drummond (124 tackles) and Dan Knapp (74 tackles) will provide Woodland Park with one of the best duos at the position in the state and lead a defense with eight seniors. On offense, the Panthers lost their top two quarterbacks and top three receivers, but return leading rusher Dominic Roskam. Most of the offensive line is back, and new signal caller Christian Cox is hoping they can protect him.

SOUTH CENTRAL

Harrison

Coach: Al Melo

Last season: 7-4, lost in first round of playoffs

Key players: Ramone Daley, sr., RB/LB (first-team all-conference); Nate Patterson, sr., RB/SS; Jared Morris, sr., OL/DL (second-team all-conference); Orlando Westbrook, soph., QB/DB; Aumiere Shedrick, soph., RB/LB; Tristan White, jr., OL/DL

What to know: Harrison had its first winning season and playoff appearance since 2011 last year. The bad news for the Panthers is that they lost quarterback Sam Garcia, and just about every offensive skill player, to graduation. The good news is Ramone Daley, one of the best linebackers in the state, returns to anchor the defense. Harrison will have to compensate for a lack of skill players by being solid in the trenches on the offensive and defensive lines.

Sierra

Coach: Shane Rowland

Last season: 1-9

Key players: Anthony Daley, sr., LB/RB; Brock Girling, sr., DE/TE; Stephon Deedon, sr., WR/DB; Juwan Black, sr., OL/DL; Dante Vigil, sr., OL/DL; Dante Thomas, sr., WR/DE

What to know: There were a lot of growing pains for Sierra last season, as the majority of the players on the field were getting their first taste of varsity action. Now, a year more experienced, the Stallions return nearly all starters on both sides of the ball. They spent a good amount of time in the weight room, and coach Shane Rowland hopes to see a faster, stronger and more aggressive team this season.