GREELEY-Wished the best by their most recent, unfortunate opponent in a post-game prayer huddle, Bayfield's personnel officially began preparing mentally to host the Nov. 25 Class 2A State Football Championship.
But in reality, the Wolverines probably had been in that 'State' of mind for quite some time, knowing a Nov. 18 win over Loveland Resurrection Christian would likely secure them a shot against the team which had prevented them from playing for the title last year.
"We're ready for La Junta," senior Hunter Killough said amidst the celebration inside sunny District 6 Stadium, adjacent to Greeley Northridge High School. "We kind of saw it, not necessarily 'coming.' We knew Eaton was a good team, but it was just destined. We were going to get a rematch."
It didn't take long for the Resurrection Cougars to suffer that mentality, either. And 'long' didn't mean BHS senior Mike Kirk and junior Isaac Lorenzen sacking sophomore quarterback Buck Coors on the game's fourth play, nor BHS senior Ryan Phelps flattening junior Alex Riedel for a six-yard loss on its second...
No, the school learned of the visitors' resolve on the opening kickoff when junior Sam Barnett attempted a return up the middle of the field, only to abruptly end up on his back when BHS senior Chris Mooney, the unblocked kicker, brought him down to the artificial surface with a clothesline-style tackle. Junior Nate Howell was alongside in case that didn't work.
Bayfield-seeded #3 in the bracket but forced to travel under CHSAA rules as 15-seed RCS had already played two road games-struggled to build upon a 14-0 halftime lead.
Still, energized to blank a fifth consecutive foe, the Wolverines (12-0 overall) continued to stop Resurrection Christian (7-5) at almost every turn.
Senior Kirk Malone dove and tripped up Barnett for a loss of five on the second quarter's first snap. Phelps ended the second quarter sacking Coors for eight yards. Mike Kirk then buried junior Kyle Lueck for a six-yard loss on RCS' third second-half snap-two plays before a fake punt run which barely made it back to the line of scrimmage.
BHS' ensuing series lasted 12 plays, four minutes and 10 seconds, but ended with junior Hayden Farmer throwing incomplete on fourth down from the Rez 22 with 2:30 left in the third. The Cougars couldn't capitalize upon such a stop; after a false-start penalty, backup QB Zane Zuhlke hit junior Tyce Lebahn for 10 yards on first down, but Lorenzen then sacked Zuhlke for five yards the very next play.
Phelps again stormed through to dump Zuhlke for a 10-yard loss on third, and sophomore Dominic Tricarico came out for his fifth actual punt-netting 28 yards out to the RCS 40 with 0:42.9 left. Phelps himself would have to punt after a quick three-and-out, but the Cougar returner paid the price for not signaling a fair catch when sophomore Dylan Hilliker, arriving at almost the same instant as the ball, blasted him immediately.
Pinned at their own 16 with just 10:23 left in the contest, Rez head coach Mark Roggy re-inserted Coors under center, but after hitting Zuhlke for a 16-yard gain on first down, Coors' next two throws were incomplete and Phelps barged through to drop Lueck for an eight-yard loss on third. Kicking from inside his own five-yard line, Tricarico's punt was blocked by Bayfield junior Daniel Westbrook and recovered by Lorenzen at the 1.
"Well we were driving and just couldn't get it in the end zone," Westbrook said. "But we got that momentum with the punt block. At the 1-yard line, drove it in and got it," he added, referring to junior David Hawkins' subsequent close-range plunge. That gave BHS a 21-0 advantage after Mooney's third point-after kick split the uprights.
"I came off as hard as I could, went for it; I was trying all season to get that," Westbrook beamed.
Forced to practically abandon any hope of a running game due to a dwindling clock-showing 9:14 left after Hawkins' TD-Resurrection Christian's next possession lasted eight plays. It was derailed when Wolverine senior Carl Heide broke up a Coors pass and ended when Coors then threw incomplete from the Bayfield 43 with 6:05 remaining.
BHS then moved swiftly and reached the RCS 10 in just four plays. A penalty on that sequence's last snap pushed the Wolverines back to the 33, but Heide then sprinted around left end for 16 yards back down to the Cougar 17. Killough recovered a fumble and actually gained four yards, but two plays later Zuhlke intercepted Farmer's throw towards the goal line and returned it out past the 20.
But even with only 1:05 remaining, Farmer would still end up taking a knee in victory formation after Killough dove forward to intercept a Coors rollout pass, initially deflected by Hawkins, with just 10.3 seconds still remaining.
"We didn't necessarily need it," grinned Killough. "But there was 18 seconds left I think, and I saw the ball go up in the air, had a shutout in mind - didn't want to give them another opportunity to put points on the board! David made a good play on it and I was able to come out with the ball."
"We knew that they were probably going to be trying to pass today. Our coach told us we had to get pressure and we did," Phelps said. "I've got my last two games-one more now-and I'm giving it everything I've got. I know my team's giving everything they've got, and it paid off today."
"Everybody had a plan for one person, and got it done," said Westbrook.
"We each have an assigned job, and we do what we do!" Kirk agreed. "We get better every week, and we're humbled for this opportunity...grateful."
During an off-and-on first half, the Wolverines got the scoring started when Farmer hit Heide for a 58-yard touchdown with 4:02 left in the first quarter, capping a three-play, 56-yard (net) drive after Mooney missed a 32-yard field goal ending the previous series.
Carrying six times in seven plays and gaining an impressive 61 yards in the process, Killough helped set up Farmer's eight-yard toss to senior Dax Snooks. That completed an 8-play, 77-yard march - with 6:59 before halftime.
"We had one touchdown already, but things were kind of going slow," said Killough. "Then our offensive line started blowing holes easy to find, so I just ran as hard as I could, tried to pick up as many yards as I could and it worked out for the better!"
"A win's a win. Don't care by how much it is," Phelps stated. "We didn't score right away, but we knew they'd been down before, so we had to show up in the second half. We were happy to finish it off like that."
Unofficially, Farmer finished 7-of-15 passing for 117 yards, with Snooks catching three passes for 33 yards. Carl Heide finished with his long touchdown, while senior Dawson Heide caught two throws for 27 yards and junior Keyon Prior one for minus-1.
Killough unofficially amassed 84 yards on 12 carries, and Hawkins 44 on 11 to lead Bayfield's rushing attack. Carl Heide logged another 27 yards on five tries, but Farmer finished with minus-23 on seven as either high snaps or Resurrection Christian pressure - led by 235-pound senior Ryan Hecker, 225-pound junior Kyle Hecker and 255-pound senior Jacob Killebrew - often trapped him in the backfield.
Four-seed La Junta, meanwhile, improved to 11-1 overall by eradicating EHS 42-0 in Eatonl leaving the #8 Reds standing 9-3. Junior quarterback Jon Nuschy led the Tigers with a reported 178 yards and four TDs on 20 carries, and also threw for 41 yards and a score.
All told, LJHS registered nearly 400 yards on the ground, with junior Zach Archuleta gaining 66 yards on ten tries while scoring one touchdown rushing and one receiving.
There was only one thing, however, dominating the Wolverines' thoughts after ousting RCS:
"Revenge," Westbrook said. "That's what I think: Revenge."
"Little bit of revenge coming!" said Kirk. "It'll be great."
"Revenge," Phelps said. "We got knocked out by them in (a semifinal) last year, at their place, and now they get to come to our place for the State Championship. We'll be ready for it."
"That was a good team," Killough said, of Resurrection Christian, "and the whole objective was to bring (the State Championship game) back home, so I'm excited about it!"
BHS athletic director Derrick Martin confirmed a 1 p.m. start for the season's grand finale. CHSAA will broadcast the game via the internet. A membership costs $10 per month to receive the game.
IMPRESSING THE BOSS: Having overseen RCS' transitions from the 1A North Central Conference to the 1A Metro in 2014, and from the Metro to the 2A Patriot's West Division in '16, Roggy-who left coaching Greeley West in early 2013 after 22 seasons-has led the Cougars to the postseason every year, and three times to a semifinal.
Speaking to the Loveland Reporter-Herald, he seemed quite impressed with BHS:
"We had a hard time on offense, but everybody has a hard time against Bayfield," he said. "They're just great on defense. They're so fast and big and they're well-coached, have a great scheme."
"We played well at times on offense, but it's that consistency."
And Roggy would know; under his leadership Resurrection Christian is 45-12 overall (25-2 in all conference clashes). That's a similar success rate to the Wolverines' 54-13 mark under Gary Heide, who started at Bayfield the year before Roggy took over as coach and athletic director at RCS.
Under Heide, Bayfield has reached the playoffs five times and advanced to either the semis or championship game now in four of those years.