PAONIA - It looked bad at first for Bayfield.
The 1A state champion Paonia Eagles were beating 2A Bayfield 20-0 in the first quarter.
Actually, it was only six plays.
"Off the bat we didn't really have it," BHS junior Taed Heydinger conceded. "None of us were giving it our all. And then we got fired up by the first touchdown; it just brought all the energy back. Got us going."
That came as junior Brody McGhehey scampered in from 22 yards, capping a 61-yard surge that consumed only 2:31. Junior Kelton McCoy's two-point pass went incomplete, but there was a sense that the real game had just commenced.
"That first quarter, we kind of came out with the mindset that 'We're going to win-it's a 1A school,'" said senior nose tackle Zane Westbrook. "And after we got our butts handed to us, we kind of picked it up.(Coaches] were telling us we have the talent.the heart to beat them."
An uncharacteristic PHS three-and-out followed, and a short punt left the Wolverines in business at the Paonia 43 with 1:53 still remaining in the frame. Bayfield kept the ball moving with carries by Phelps, McGhehey, McCoy and senior Anthony Chamblee, but on the 13th play of the series McCoy flung a four-yard score to Heydinger.
The two-point run also was foiled, but with 9:35 left in the second quarter BHS was wholly back.
Paonia countered like the defending Class 1A State Champions they are, going 75 yards in nine plays and 3:23, then taking the ball in from six yards. The kick was good for a 15-point lead with 6:03 left before halftime, but it was swiftly whittled back down to seven when Zane Phelps scored from two yards out on the sixth play of an all-run drive covering 38 yards.
McCoy hit Heydinger for the conversion, and with 4:15 left there was plenty of time for the plot to thicken.
Three plays after setting up shop at their own 13, Wolverine defensive back Colter McMenimen intercepted a deep throw and returned it about 36 yards to the Paonia 27 with 1:52 left. And Bayfield wasted very few of those precious 112 seconds, with McCoy (5-of-14, 44 yds. passing; 5-14 rushing) linking with McGhehey for the crucial six-pointer from 25 yards out on third down.
Left-footed junior Matias Karhumaki drilled the PAT, and with barely a minute left BHS' early wrongs had been righted to a 27-27 tie.
Chewing up 66 yards 12 plays and one PHS penalty into the third, the Wolverines added to their comeback with a go-ahead two-yard Phelps plunge (and subsequent Karhumaki kick) and 8:08 remaining.
"They're just a good, strong, powerful line. Went to State, so they obviously know what they're doing," said Westbrook, whose name was announced far too many times for Paonia fans' comfort. "They know how to block real well, get underneath.make lanes for the running back, so it made it real difficult."
But Paonia made mistakes, too. A kick was low, blocked by the heart of BHS' line with Westbrook and linebacker Kyle Killough both in the vicinity and DB Cash Snooks pressuring from the formation's edge.
After the Wolverines went to work from their own 40, however, Paonia intercepted McCoy on third down and took it back to the BHS 45 with 10:31 left, followed by a touchdown. The Eagles' conversion pass then failed, but a pass-interference call against Bayfield (2-2, 0-0 2A Western Slope-South) gave PHS another chance, and they scored again at the end of the game. The final score came to 55-34.
Still, there was positivity in BHS' post-game huddle.
Assistant Coach Todd McMenimen said he'd rather be 2-2 if all games were such fights, than stand 4-0 with every win like the squad's earlier 55-0 thrashing of ill-prepared Shiprock, N.M.
"I agree one hundred percent-it's games like these that get us ready for the playoffs, ready for November," said Phelps (30-86, 2 TD). "Because we are going to be a playoff team.and we're going to make Bayfield proud. It's games like this, instead of Shiprock, that get us there."
McMenimen gained 45 yards on seven rushes, while McGhehey finished with 27 on nine.
"It's nice to know we can hang with anybody like this," Heydinger (2 rec., 7 yds.) said. "All we ever want to do is get better. Everybody has to give it their all.hopefully this will propel us!"
"We've got to take the amount of heart we showed, and just take it to a whole new level," concurred Phelps.
Still 'Receiving Votes' in this week's CHSAANow.com poll after the effort, Bayfield's current four-game road stretch ends with tonight's 2A Western Slope opener in Olathe. Kickoff at Wilson Field against the Pirates (3-1, 0-0) is set for 7 p.m.