Pads will be popping and footballs will fill the early-autumn air just three weeks from now when the Platte Canyon High School Huskies kick off a highly-anticipated season under new head coach Lance Gunkel.
The Huskies will enter the 2019 campaign as the defending champions of the Class 1A Foothills Conference, a privilege they earned by going undefeated (5-0) in conference play in 2018.
Typical of high school football schedules, the Huskies face non-conference teams for the first part of the season, prior to entering the conference portion of the schedule during the second half of the season.
It just so happens that the pre-conference stretch of the schedule pits Platte Canyon against extremely stiff competition. Last season, the Huskies lost three of their first four games to non-conference opponents before catching fire down the stretch and winning six in a row.
Once again, according to the 2019 schedule, the first four games will provide a number of challenges for the Huskies prior to settling in against Foothills Conference opponents in weeks 5 through 9.
For starters, Buena Vista’s Demons will make the trip through South Park Sept. 6 to open the season for both teams. That contest did not go well for the Huskies last year, as they fell convincingly on the road to the Demons, 26-6.
Interestingly, the Huskies beat the Demons, 22-20, at home in 2017. Let’s hope the winning trend for home teams holds form for another year, and that Gunkel can notch a victory in his first appearance as head coach.
Week two will see the Huskies travel to take on the Wiggins Tigers, a team the Huskies handled 12-0 at home last season. The Tigers managed only one win last season.
Week three will offer the opportunity to kill a giant, so to speak, when the Huskies face the Colorado Christian Academy Lions. The Lions defeated Platte Canyon 27-0 last season in Colorado Springs.
The Huskies were not alone, however, as the Lions were a perfect 5-0 at home in 2018, and also posted a 10-2 season record before finally falling to Limon in the playoffs. Needless to say, the Huskies will need a terrific game to emerge as winners in week three.
The schedule does the Huskies no favor in week four, either, when they meet the Peyton Panthers. Peyton went 10-1 last season, beating Platte Canyon 42-6, in Bailey in week four. The Huskies drew the Panthers again in the playoffs and kept the game close before falling behind late in a 22-6 loss in Peyton.
Perhaps so much familiarity with the Panthers, along with the added incentive of having been eliminated by them last season, will provide the edge the Huskies need to pull off a stunner in week four of 2019.
Clear Creek, Jefferson, Sheridan, Lake County and Manual fill out the remainder of the schedule – all in Foothills Conference play.
Despite the loss of nine seniors, the Huskies return with 17 players from last season.
New head coach Lance Gunkel, who has spent 13 years serving as the defensive coordinator for previous head coach Mike Schmidt, plans to stick with winning formulas as he looks ahead to the 2020 season.
Gunkel was recently hired as head coach when Schmidt, who also serves as district superintendent and principal for PCHS, stepped down after a long and immensely successful career as the Huskies’ skipper.
“Mike was hands off and let me learn on the job when I came here,” Gunkel recalled. “He delegated it to me and let me have it.”
When asked what changes he plans to make in his first year as Huskies’ head coach, Gunkel said, “Very few.”
“It always depends on the kids you have, but I don’t plan to change much at all about how we do things,” Gunkel said. “We will run the ball often and continue to play an aggressive brand of defense just as we have in the past.”
Like most successful coaches, Gunkel can discuss tactical strategies and all facets of Xs and Os with ease. But when asked to describe the key ingredients required for success on the gridiron, he dwells on the intangible qualities of players such as commitment, preparation and a team-first mentality.
“The game is still about brotherhood, supporting and playing for each other, and bonding as a team,” Gunkel said. “High school football helps the kids learn more about themselves, as well as their teammates, and teaches them to work as individuals to achieve common goals for the sake of the team. When all those things come together, winning is usually the end result.”
A more in-depth look at the Huskies roster, along with key returning players, will follow in upcoming editions of The Flume.