Dakota Ridge football has battled adversity on road to state semis

Dakota Ridge football coach Ron Woitalewicz works with players during practice this week. Woitalewicz has spent more than two decades at Dakota Ridge and 19 seasons as the Eagles' head coach. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

LITTLETON — Through a handful of season-ending injuries, along with a shutout loss in Dakota Ridge’s regular-season finale, the Eagles have endured.

“This team has been so resilient,” Dakota Ridge football coach Ron Woitalewicz said this week during a practice before the Eagles’ Class 4A state semifinal game scheduled for noon Saturday, Nov. 30, at Jeffco Stadium against Broomfield. “It has been next man up.”

Dakota Ridge junior quarterback Ben Gultig had helped the Eagles put up 73 points in their two playoff games. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

The two biggest losses for Dakota Ridge came early in the season. Returning all-conference offensive lineman Matthew Heitmann, who has verbally committed to Air Force, was lost after knee injury before the Eagles’ season opener.

Then starting junior running back Sean McNamara went down with another season-ending knee injury before conference play began. The latest loss was junior offensive lineman Jason Soderlin.

“They have refused to let the injuries be a reason to not be good and compete,” Woitalewicz said. “I think a lot of that has to do with our senior leadership.”

No. 6-seeded Dakota Ridge (10-2 record) entered the postseason on a sour note. The Eagles’ 14-0 shutout loss to Golden on Nov. 8 kept Dakota Ridge from winning the 4A Jeffco League title, but served as a benefit in the long run.

“That was kind of devastating,” Woitalewicz said of the loss. “But these guys’ goal was to win a state championship. It would have been nice to win a league championship, but I think it was a good wake-up call for our kids. We aren’t good enough to just show up and play.”

Who has really shown up this postseason for Dakota Ridge is junior Charlie Offerdahl. Pressed into playing more running back, Offerdahl has 40 carries for 300 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in playoff wins over Fruita Monument and Heritage.

Dakota Ridge's leading tackler — junior Steve Reyes — will have his sights set on Broomfield running back Caden Peters on Saturday afternoon at Jeffco Stadium. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“We are kind of at the point of the season now where you don’t think about plays. You think about players,” Woitalewicz said. “That kid (Offerdahl) has been a warrior. He is the best player on the field on offense and defense. He does it all.”

Offerdahl rarely comes off the field playing defensive back and also special teams as a returner. However, the junior is quick to deflect his success.

“I like to give all the credit to my offensive line,” Offerdahl said. “They put in the work all week and it paid off in the games.”

The hard work ahead for Dakota Ridge is facing the last remaining undefeated team in 4A — No. 2 Broomfield (12-0). Broomfield cruised to a 27-3 victory over Chatfield in its state quarterfinal game last week.

Senior running back Caden Peters as been the workhorse for Broomfield and coach Blair Hubbard’s squad all season. Peters had 34 carries for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week against Chatfield.

“That has to be the No. 1 key. That kid (Peters) rushed for 2,300 yards and they are big up front,” Woitalewicz said. “I think to stop Caden Peters has to be the No. 1 focus.”

Peters has 274 carries for 2,374 yards and 20 touchdowns so far this season.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Dakota Ridge junior linebacker Steve Reyes said of facing Peters. “I trust our defensive line on getting some penetration to allow the linebackers to run free.”

This is Dakota Ridge’s fourth trip to the state semifinals. The Eagles lost to Jeffco rival Wheat Ridge in 2008 and 2010 in the semifinals. The lone trip to the 4A state championship game for Dakota Ridge came in 2004. The Eagles lost to ThunderRidge 45-29.

“It’s good to be back,” said Woitalewicz, who is in his 24th season at Dakota Ridge and 19th as head coach. “Anytime you can practice on Thanksgiving it’s the greatest thing ever.”

Dakota Ridge senior lineman James Hess, far right, has been apart of the senior class that has brought solid leadership to the Eagles this season. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)