Nearly one month into the new season, Class 1A football already has its usual suspects — defending state champ Strasburg, along with Crowley County, Peyton, Paonia and Limon, just to name a handful of 2017 playoff teams — off and running with either undefeated marks or winning records.
And there, right in the middle of those programs, sits another, hopeful to be in that same discussion a few years from now.
Jefferson, which came into the season with a 37-game on-field losing streak — the Edgewater school got a forfeit win in 2015 — is one of the season’s early surprise stories, starting 3-0 and injecting plenty of hope for the future.
“We knew this year coming up was going to be our year to really step up and play competitive football,” said first-year head coach Matthew Mallon, the former offensive coordinator who took over for Joseph Zaba just weeks before opening kickoff. “In the past, we were losing games 76-0, but we kept grinding. Last year, we lost by less in the fourth quarter. I could see a turnaround coming.”
Jefferson had reclassification request to 1A approved at last November’s Classification and League Organizing Committee.
Already, Jefferson has seen the benefits and is winning games again, just like in 2013 when it started 7-0 and reached the 2A playoffs.
“It’s really crazy going from 0-9 to where we are now,” senior running back and backup quarterback Ben Alvear said. “It’s a blessing. All that hard work is finally paying off.”
The Saints, with their four-receiver offensive sets, overwhelmed their first two opponents by a combined score of 105-20. In their last game Sept. 14, Jefferson turned to its defense to hold off St. Mary’s, 7-5.
“We needed to know we could handle adversity, and we proved that here,” Mallon said. “They blitzed us up the middle, so we adjusted by throwing some bubble screens. Sometimes, you don’t learn a lot in a blowout, and that goes either way. We needed a game like this.”
Jefferson turned the ball over five times but did force three turnovers, including a game-changing fumble on a free kick following a safety that gave St. Mary’s a 5-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Junior starting quarterback and defensive back Devon Kemp scooped up the loose ball at the 30 and returned it 22 yards. The next play, he found Joe Martinez on an inside slant in the end zone to finally put the Saints on the board and ahead to stay.
The defense allowed only three first downs after that — two on penalties — to stay undefeated.
“Our defense won that game, and I knew we had that in us,” senior receiver and defensive back Kurvonte Rice said. “People around school used to joke about us. Now, they see our success, so they take us more seriously. They realize we’re good. I know we’ll get even better.”
With the development of a strong feeder program, Mallon envisions a program with staying power for when it returns to 2A.
“I knew we had to start building the program from a young age,” Mallon said. “That’s one thing we started about three years ago when I got here. We had never had that, and it’s already helped a lot.”