It was unlikely that two football teams from the Western Slope League would go head to head in a state semifinal playoff game, let alone two Delta County teams. Yet on Saturday, the Cedaredge Bruins and Hotchkiss Bulldogs were among the last four teams standing in the state 1A bracket.
And it was the Bruins who, despite missing their starting quarterback, claimed the 16-12 win to advance to this Saturday's championship game.
Dante Markley was wearing jeans and his No. 5 jersey Saturday after suffering a concussion a week earlier in the Bruins' quarterfinal win over Monte Vista.
Replacing a dual threat quarterback like Markley a week before the state semifinals would be difficult for lesser teams. But junior Trent Walker, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver, was game-ready. The few adjustments the Bruins did make in their game plan were to take advantage of his height.
"We kind of did what we do," said Bruins head coach, Brandon Milholland. "We did put in a five-receiver set that we ran a few plays with because Trent can throw the heck out of it."
"It's so easy to play this position on this team," said Walker, who played the last half of his sophomore season at quarterback and had thrown just six passes this season. Considering what was at stake, Walker was confident. "I knew when I came in that I had everybody wearing blue on my side, the players and the fans. I didn't have to do it by myself."
Milholland said the win was "just a total team effort. All these men knew that they had to step up and we knew that we had to play our best to beat Hotchkiss. They're a great team."
A week earlier, the Bulldogs, who were seeded 10th, were able to overcome a 19-point second-half deficit to score 40 unanswered points and defeat second-ranked Limon. No. 3 Cedaredge had blanked six-seeded Monte Vista to advance.
Cedaredge moved to Class 1A this fall, and remained undefeated in league play to win the Western Slope Conference title, which Hotchkiss had claimed the past five years. Cedaredge handed the Bulldogs their first league loss since 2007, winning the conference opener, 21-20.
While the teams have been viewed as rivals, Milholland politely disagrees. "Until this season they kind of took it to us for about a decade," he said. Indeed, Hotchkiss has remained undefeated at least since 2005, outscoring the Bruins, 277-65, and by 187-16 the past five years. "To me, a rivalry is something that can go either way year after year. Hopefully we can get back to that."
Senior Bruin fullback Carter Wasser had 25 carries for 100 yards and 12 points, and twin brother Cade Wasser had three receptions for 45 yards and four points. Those four points were the main determining factor in getting the Bruins to the state championship.
Three minutes into the game, Carter Wasser opened scoring on an eight-yard run. Walker then connected with Cade Wasser for the two-point conversion.
The Bruins keyed in on Bulldog running back Jacobe Galley, who led the league in rushing this season. Galley was held to 69 yards in 18 carries and a touchdown early in the second half. It was the second time this season he carried for fewer than 100 yards. Running back Trenton Tamayo, who averaged almost 70 yards and seven points per game, was held to 11 carries for 45 yards.
The Bruin defense, led by Dustin Stracener, held Hotchkiss to a season-low 133 total yards. Bulldog quarterback Josh Hardin was 0-6 in passing and threw two interceptions. Hardin punched through the line for a touchdown late in the first half, but the Bruins held fast on the two-point conversion attempt.
Cedaredge led 8-6 at the half. They were deep in Bulldog territory and were held by a goal line stand with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
But turnovers, which have plagued the Bulldogs throughout much of the season, were a big factor in their loss. "We had good field position and a chance to punch it in," said head coach Zac Lemon, "and we had a couple of key turnovers."
The Bulldogs also lost senior lead receiver and defensive lineman Conner Beard, who suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter after making four solo tackles. Lemon called Beard a team leader who could stir up enthusiasm. "It's an emotional letdown," said Lemon. "It takes a while to try to bounce back from something like that, and I thought we did a pretty good job... I think we still had a chance. It was just a major hit."
The Bulldog defense held Cedaredge back until late in the third period when the Bruins ended an 80-yard drive on a six-yard scoring run by Carter Wasser. Walker again connected with Cade Wasser on the two-point play.
With just over four minutes remaining in the game, Hotchkiss fumbled, giving Cedaredge possession on its own 45. The Bruins were able to control the ball and run out the clock.
Reid Gates rushed for 77 yards for the Bruins, and Peter Williamson had one carry for six yards.
The last time the Bruins made the state playoffs was in 2002. They last played in a championship game in 1993 and were runners-up in 2A to Rye (26-8). They have never won a state championship. They face top-seeded Buena Vista (12-0 overall, 7-0 Tri Peaks League) this Saturday, at Buena Vista. Whether Markley will be released to play was unknown at press time. Walker said he's ready, regardless of where he plays, but is pulling for Markley. "He's the leader of this team," said Walker, "and we want him back."
"About the only thing I know about them is that they're a really good football team and that they've taken it to everybody in this playoff run," said Milholland of the Demons.
"The only team that really hung in with them was Hotchkiss, early in the season," noted Milholland. And with the exception of their zero-week loss against 3A Eagle Valley, the only team that has really hung in there against the Bruins was Hotchkiss; twice.
Whether or not playing Hotchkiss will help in preparing for the Demons remains to be seen, said Milholland. "We're going to try to go get one for the Western Slope."blog comments powered by Disqus