Fairview, star QB Aidan Atkinson bow to ThunderRidge – The Denver Post

HIGHLANDS RANCH — Aidan Atkinson and his Fairview Knights were on the cusp of what was shaping up to be a hallmark win in the young season. Until they weren’t.

Atkinson and the Fairview offense that had churned out 10 first-half touchdowns over their first two games faced a rude awakening in Thursday’s 28-24 loss at ThunderRidge, after the touted quarterback had marched a gritty, would-be comeback before receiver Bryce DesJardins fumbled at the goal line on an end-around for the go-ahead touchdown.

It was a game marred by offensive miscues, notably on the turnover and a blown two-minute offense before halftime that allowed ThunderRidge to mount a last-second touchdown manifested just after a scamper from quarterback Ryan Gilmore near midfield.

“We were clicking. There was just something different about it,” Atkinson said of Fairview’s final drive. “Our receivers were getting a little bit more space. We really did think we were going to win. I assumed everybody thinks they’re going to win when they get the ball on the five with two minutes left.”

Atkinson, the junior quarterback who has drawn offers from multiple Power 5 schools, and Fairview’s no-huddle spread offense at first looked as if business was usual. The 3-star recruit effectively distributed the ball to the Knight’s army of skill-position players, connecting for two touchdowns to bring his season total to 12 through three games.

Atkinson has received offers from Boise State, Colorado, Colorado State, Nevada, Ole Miss and South Carolina, but that list could grow. Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, USC, UCLA and Oregon sent scouts to watch him last year, and he’s visited Michigan, LSU, Stanford and Washington on his own. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound third-year starter is listed as a three-star recruit via 247 Sports.

“When we talk to the colleges, they’re pretty excited with the things that he’s working on,” Fairview head coach Tom McCartney said. “He’s able to set protections. He’s able to do the audibles. So we don’t predetermine for him where the ball needs to go. He has to do a lot of reading and so forth. The colleges are pretty excited that’s how he’s learning.”

McCartney, who has been prowling the Knights’ sidelines for going on 26 seasons, is quick to note this year’s personnel has allowed him to be creative with his offense, which he said began developing spread tendencies in the mid-90s, well before the rest of most CHSSA programs. DesJardins and Ashton Nichols have each been starters alongside Atkinson, helping establish chemistry.

However, with two years of tape on Atkinson now, defenses have adjusted. On Thursday, ThunderRidge deployed packages that dropped as many eight into the defensive backfield — but more often applied pressure, converting for five sacks.

“They’re not trying to give him the same look each time, so some disguise and dropping a lot of guys in coverage and re-routing,” McCartney said.

Among the offensive alumni that have come through include Craig Oaks, who wound up playing for CU-Boulder, Taylor Tharp, who played at Boise State, and Anders Hill, who led the Knights to the 2013 state title game and went on to become a team captain at Columbia. McCartney said Atkinson has become as ingrained in the Knights offense as any of his predecessors.

“I’ve definitely had some over the years, and no one has really gotten the attention that Aiden has gotten so early, so young,” McCartney said.

Atkinson said that most college programs have encouraged him to focus on weight training and speed and quickness as he works his way through year three. But for now, the team-wide aspiration is to bring McCartney his first state title.

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