Pikes Peak Christian used to be the hunter. But this year, the Eagles are the ones with the target on their backs.
Coach Kelvin Thorne often says that his program is a year or two ahead of schedule. It's a young group, even after an 8-2 2016 season full of firsts: First time as league champions, first time in the playoffs since 2006 and the first time hosting a playoff game.
The challenge this year, Thorne said, will be maintaining consistency in the face of pressure from other teams.
"Rather than being a team most people wanted to schedule for their homecoming, we're the team to beat," Thorne said. "Our leadership will have to grow up real fast."
Thorne coached this group in middle school, something he said creates a strong core of relationships and experience you don't often see with a young team at the high school level.
"We're young, but we're already a built team," he said. "We got some confidence and learned how to win, and everything sort of goes from there."
Junior Tommy Harmon does a bit of everything for the Eagles as a running back, outside linebacker, and kicker/punter.
"We had got used to losing all the time," Harmon said. "We would get too excited and make mistakes. Now, we're better at keeping our focus and maintaining our discipline."
Thorne highlighted the in-game difference between chasing and leading, too. When his team is up, they have the freedom to play looser and have more variety on plays.
"We're confident, but hungry to go further," Thorne said. "I don't feel like we really got to show how good we are."
Even though his team lost its playoff game last year, Thorne saw enough to know that the Eagles belong in the postseason. Down 29-6 at halftime, Pikes Peak Christian pitched a second-half shutout and began a comeback, eventually falling 29-18 to Haxtun.
"We're the kind of team that you don't want to face late in the year," Thorne said.