The redbirds are flying high.
Winging their way into post-season play with an impressive record and a ton of momentum, the Elizabeth Cardinals are the East Metro League football champions and will be hosting their first playoff game on Nov. 9.
In the first round of the playoffs, head coach Chris Cline is anticipating the Cardinals may face one of three potential opponents: Delta, Glenwood Springs or Conifer.
Elizabeth defeated Glenwood in 2010 to win the 3A state championship and Cline said he likes the team's chances to “go deep” into the playoffs this year too.
“3A is such wide-open race. There are some really good teams and we think we are one of them,” said Cline, who singled out a trio of Cardinals seniors as the heart and soul of this year's team:
• Chase Nicholas, a running back and linebacker, is both the team's leading rusher and tackler.
• Quarterback Brody Oliver, who has amassed more than 1,000 yards rushing and passing and has also caught three touchdown passes from backup quarterback Logan Weber. “Brody's our overall offensive leader,” Cline said. “We give him every chance we can to use his athleticism.”
• Dallas Reins, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound tackle and defensive end, anchors the offensive and defensive lines and is attracting a lot of attention from college scouts. “Dallas is one of the fastest linemen I've seen in a long time,” said Cline.
Cline is a former standout prep and college player himself — he played tight end at Mesa College in Grand Junction and has coached at the high school level for a total of 28 years. He came to Elizabeth after coaching in Rifle and also coached for a number of years in Cortez in southwestern Colorado.
In charge of the EHS football program since 2000, Cline became the school's athletic director in 2004 and also serves as activity director and assistant principal.
All three of Cline's sons have come through his program — two still play for the Cardinals and his oldest is now playing for Western State in Gunnison while getting his degree in education.
“We're a football family,” Cline said.
This year's Cardinals squad has compiled an impressive 7-2 regular season record (in their last regular-season game, they were to play Weld Central Nov. 1) and Cline believes the Cardinals are peaking at just the right time.
“I've got a great coaching staff. We've been together a long time and really believe in what we do — and so do the kids,” said Cline. “Football is all about execution. And our team has really been executing well as the season has gone on.”
Cline said that in his 14 years at Elizabeth, the team has changed offensive schemes four times. The team's offensive attack this year, he said, has been a mixture of “spread and double wing. We try to keep the defenses we've faced balanced and don't allow them to load up on the run or the pass.”
“We work with kids and try to play to their strengths,” Cline said. “A lot of our success comes from good kids and good parents working hard and going in the same direction.”
And unlike other Front Range schools that have transformed themselves into football powerhouses, Cline said the Cardinals don't get a lot of out-of-district transfers or new kids each year.
“We do it with Elizabeth kids,” he said. “I've known most of my players since they were in elementary school.”