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File, The Gazette

The Colorado High School Activities Association announced another change will affect a number of local football teams in 2020.

CHSAA announced Tuesday the state will expand the Class 4A football playoff bracket from 16 to 24 teams in 2020. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the approval of a new football alignment for the 2020-2021 seasons.

The expanded playoff bracket replicates 5A’s playoff schedule, which previously played its first-round games a week before the 4A tournament. As a result, 4A teams will no longer be able to schedule a bye week during the regular season, and will have to play 10 consecutive weeks heading into the state tournament.

The top eight teams in both the 4A and 5A brackets will receive a bye, with the Nos. 9-24 seeds playing in the first round, scheduled to begin Nov. 5, 2020.

The Pikes Peak region will have 13 schools competing in 4A in 2020 thanks to the new alignment. Palmer Ridge and Fountain-Fort Carson will play in 4A, with Palmer Ridge moving from 3A and F-FC from 5A. Pine Creek will compete in a 5A league, but will play in the 4A state bracket.

“I think there’s really good competition in 3A and in 4A,” Palmer Ridge coach Tom Pulford said. “But we know that with our numbers are growing and being a 4A school is on the horizon, maybe not numbers wise now, but we are getting there.”

According to the latest enrollment numbers made available by CHSAA, Palmer Ridge had an enrollment of 1,185 with the 3A cutoff for football landing at 1,233. But with the team’s recent success — 34-5 through its last three seasons and back-to-back 3A state championships — the Bears will move to 4A.

“This is part of our incremental improvement, so with the opportunity to play in 4A and in a 24-team bracket, our focus goes back to what we can control,” Pulford said. “We need to be as efficient as we can with practice time and reps, it’s not a perfect science, but we always evaluate at the end of each week and at the end of the season.”

Pulford said another step in the program’s incremental improvement is growing the program by building relationships with Palmer Ridge athletes who have never played football, and helping them realize the potential and benefit of being a multi-sport athlete.

With 1,590 students enrolled according to the latest data, Pine Creek will remain a 4A team, but will play up during the regular season in a league with 5A teams that include Doherty, Chaparral, Douglas County, Legend and Regis Jesuit. Doherty (20-11) and Regis Jesuit (28-9) are the only two programs in the 5A south league with a combined record above .500 through the last three seasons. Competing in a 4A league, Pine Creek compiled a 34-6 record since 2016, which includes the state championship in 2016 and a title-game appearance the next year.

“Our program has gotten to the point where we can step up to that challenge of playing a classification above during the regular season,” Pine Creek coach Todd Miller told The Gazette two weeks ago.

Falcon will also move from 3A to the newly formed 4A I-25 league, comprised of Cheyenne Mountain, Liberty, Palmer, Thornton and Widefield. In the last three seasons the new I-25 league combined for a 47-132 record, and last year Cheyenne Mountain and Palmer suffered from low numbers, forcing the teams to either forfeit or play modified games.

With that in mind, CHSAA approved that only the league champion can qualify for the state tournament.

The latest enrollment numbers released by CHSAA lists F-FC with 1,865 students, which in the most recent cycle put the Trojans just 40 students over the 5A classification minimum. However, coach Jake Novotny said the school's enrollment reported last November was around 1,730 students. He said the falling rates are directly related to deployment trends due to the proximity to Fort Carson.

The Trojans are 12-21 through the last three seasons in 5A. 

While the expanded playoff bracket will not be new for Fountain-Fort Carson coach Jake Novotny and the Trojans, the team will have a different vibe as it hosts true "crosstown" rivals in 2020.

Fountain-Fort Carson is undergoing renovations to its athletic facilities, with a new weight room, field house and turf upgraded in the last year, and a blue track being installed this summer.

“We are going to have a beautiful facility and people in the area are going to have the opportunity to see it and want to play on it,” Novotny said. “But to me what’s most exciting is going to help build a local community to come to our games.”

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