AURORA — Hustle doesn't take any days off, so neither did Eaglecrest's football team this year.
And at the end of the Raptors' regular season schedule, the "no days off" mentality paid off in a colossal way.
This week's Class 5A No. 3-ranked Eaglecrest football team rolled to the program's second-ever undefeated season with a 41-14 victory over Arvada West on Thursday night at Legacy Stadium.
The Raptors, 10-0 overall, clinched the Mt. Wilson League title for the program's first league championship since 1993, and will receive an automatic playoff berth in the state tournament. The Raptors closed out the season as the only unbeaten team in 5A this year.
Seventh year head coach Mike Schmitt, a previous Denver Broncos high school football coach of the week, said the young team started out good and has really progressed week after week.
“We started out the season as a team full of tenacity and a team full of toughness, but as we’ve gone through this year our confidence levels have increased, our execution has improved and our defense has gotten a whole lot better," Schmitt said. "They just got a bit tougher and that’s been our progression."
On senior night, the young team celebrated the 17 seniors on the team - the true leaders of the squad.
"It’s tough to get up every week to play and finish against these teams, and I’m just glad our guys remained focused. We didn’t play our best every week, but we remained focused and did what we had to get those 10 victories," Schmitt said.
He added: "The credit goes to our senior class and the boys. As coaches, we try to do what we can do, but it’s really the young men. This group loves each other and they appreciate playing with each other and doing things for one another."
The Raptors, who start five or six seniors, are led on offense by the junior trio of running back Kenny Wantings, quarterback Jalen Mergerson and running back Victor Garnes. The Raptors produced 365 points this year, which ranks in the top 5 of Class 5A.
Garnes had stellar season and was all over the field for the Raptors on both sides of the ball. He dashed for a vicious 53-yard punt return early in the second quarter on the Raptors' first possession, and punched in two TDs for the Raptors against the Wildcats (6-4).
"The seniors are big leaders on our team," Mergerson said. "They're all great leaders and they keep us young guys in check most of the time and they play hard."
Mergerson ran in the first TD of the game for Eaglecrest to put them up early and then capitalized off a recovered fumble after firing a 20-yard TD pass to junior wide receiver Theryne Sandoval-Jimenz, who also scored a second later on.
The Eaglecrest defense that allowed 127 this year is also top-ranked in 5A.
The defensive backs provided excellent coverage against the Wildcats, who boast a lethal passer in second year starting QB sophomore Johnny Krutsch. The defensive backs were batting down balls all night and Raptors cornerback Kyle Johnson picked off Krutsch in the first half of the game before a slew of even more turnovers.
"We're trying to be a team that gives an elite effort," Schmitt said. "We’ve always said we want to be an elite team, and not in a sense we want to be the best team out there, but we just want to give that elite effort in practice and we've gone through what it takes to be a better than average team."
"We're going to have a Saturday morning practice to get ready for the playoffs and it goes back to where we were in the beginning of the year," Schmitt said. "We want to be 1-0. That’s all we’re going to focus on is our opponent."
Garnes added: "We haven’t done this in 23 years and for us to play this way has been amazing. With this record going into the playoffs, we’re looking to finish it out.
"We're coming. We're just coming. Everybody needs to know that we're coming."