Realignment could help Doherty playoff hopes, impact Palmer Ridge football state title chances

Photo - Doherty senior Isaac Kubik runs the ball at Fountain-Fort Carson on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.

(The Gazette, Nadav Soroker)
Doherty senior Isaac Kubik runs the ball at Fountain-Fort Carson on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (The Gazette, Nadav Soroker)

In a perfect world, the Doherty football program likely would have advanced to the playoffs the past two seasons.

Reality was much more cruel: The Spartans competed in a not-so-even Class 5A Mt. Massive League, and they never made the playoffs despite finishing 8-2 and 7-3 because their RPI wasn't strong enough.

However, change could be coming.

Doherty athletic director Chris Noll said the program has a renewed sense of hope after a proposed realignment to Class 5A was made last week during a state football committee meeting. The recommendations focused on moving away from the "waterfall" playoff format -- implemented two years ago to even out the playing field -- to allowing teams to play more traditional foes, save traveling cost and help struggling programs.

The committee identified 10 such teams and placed them in their own league. None are from the Pikes Peak region.

As for Doherty, it was placed in a league with playoff regulars like Cherry Creek and Grandview. This move could finally get the Spartans to the playoffs thanks to an improved RPI rating, if their winning ways continue.

"The league that we're going into will be much more competitive than the league that we're coming out of," Noll said of the proposal. "Two of the teams in that rebuilt league were in our league. Those teams killed our RPI. We feel for the last two years we were a playoff-type team."

The realignment comes after the Colorado High School Activities Association's legislative council voted early this year to recalibrate its RPI formula that weighed heavily on strength of schedule, and not so much on a team's winning percentage. The new formula would go into effect next season.

The formula used in the 2017 playoff rankings put 4-7 Fountain-Fort Carson into the 5A bracket as the No. 15 seed due to the team's strength of schedule. Doherty, which fell to Fountain-Fort Carson 35-26 in Week 5, finished in 17th despite finishing the season 7-3.

Another move that could potentially impact two key area teams is moving Pueblo South down to 3A with the four other Pueblo schools, and Durango. The Colts handed Pine Creek a 25-14 loss in the Class 4A football state title game earlier this month.

If the proposal is approved, the reigning 4A state champion will play alongside Palmer Ridge, the reigning 3A state champions should they make the playoffs.

"There are a lot of good football programs that will be in our classification next year," Pueblo South coach Ryan Goddard said. "We will be a brand new team next year and one of the greatest things about high school football is the challenge of improving and teaching life lessons to all the young men in your program. Rankings and preseason favorites are generally for the fans and to be honest, we don't put a lot of stock into those things. ... We are simply trying to impact our community in a positive way for years to come."

Last week's alignment proposals will need to be approved by the legislative council at a committee meeting in January.

A lot of the league changes centered on geography. The 15-member committee wanted teams to go back to facing opponents closer to them. For example, Pine Creek, Vista Ridge, Cheyenne Mountain and Palmer were put in a 4A league with Grand Junction Central.

"We heard loudly from our membership that we want more traditional leagues, and play traditional neighborhood rivals," committee chair Mike Krueger said, according to a CHSAA release.

Another 4A league strings together Air Academy, Liberty, Coronado, Rampart and Widefield against one Colorado Springs area outsider, Pueblo West.

One 3A league would feature only teams from the area: Mitchell, Sand Creek, Falcon, Harrison, Sierra and Canon City.