Five weeks into the season, the thought of making the playoffs might have elicited a Jim Mora-like response from anyone at Vista Ridge.
The Wolves were 2-3, including an 0-2 start in the Pike Peak Athletic Conference after a blowout loss at Pine Creek and a 14-point setback against Ponderosa.
Vista Ridge recovered and won four of its final games to end the regular season. And despite a 29-28 loss to Falcon in the regular-season finale Nov.?1, the Wolves gained enough points to climb into the 16th and final spot in the wild-card points, which determines playoff qualifiers.
With new life, the No. 15 Wolves (6-4) take a nothing-to-lose attitude into their first-round game at No.?2 Monarch (8-1), the defending state champion, at 7 p.m. Friday at Centaurus High School in Lafayette.
"The first half of the season was kind of rough," Wolves sophomore quarterback Elway Tubbs said. "I thought those tough games made us closer. I think we picked it up in the second half of the season, and we pulled together as a group."
Tubbs' individual turnaround mirrored the upturn his team took. After throwing six touchdown passess with nine interceptions in the first half, Tubbs tossed 16 touchdowns and just one interception the rest of the way as the Wolves beat Rampart, Air Academy, Liberty and Sand Creek to improve to 6-3.
Even then, the Wolves needed help after blowing an 11-point lead against rival Falcon. They got it from an unlikely source when Palmer Ridge beat then-13th-ranked Pueblo Centennial.
The setback sent Centennial out of the rankings and allowed Vista Ridge to continue against the same Monarch team that ended the Wolves' season a year ago.
"After the (Falcon) game, some of seniors were sitting on the field, remembering the good times we had," Wolves running back Dedrick Lee said. "Then one of the guys said we were in the playoffs at No.?16. Now, everyone feels like we have a new beginning, a clean slate. We can start fresh."
Last Nov.?16, Monarch visited Vista Ridge and left with a 28-21 victory. The Wolves spotted the Coyotes a 28-7 lead in the second half, then rallied to score twice, only to end up short on a failed fourth-and-goal conversion on the final play of the game.
Then, Vista Ridge was left to wonder when it watched Monarch go on to win the state title.
"It hurt knowing that they beat us by only one play and they went on to win state," Lee said. "Everyone who played remembers that feeling. Last week, we got that feeling again when we almost had our season taken away. We've learned to never let someone else give you that feeling. We have to decide the result, not someone else."