SALIDA - David Hawkins hasn't suited up for Bayfield Basketball.
But should incoming head coach Klint Chandler read this, he might try persuading Hawkins to give it a try.
When the Wolverines needed some verticality, the backfield beast became BHS' version of a young Charles Barkley. Bayfield was looking to end a third consecutive scoring drive Friday, Oct. 26, with the vaunted Salida Spartans reeling in the final game of the regular season, and playoffs on the line.
Elevating in the end zone towards the sideline, midway between the front and rear pylons, the 6'3", 220-pound senior was not only ready to crash through Salida defender Zayne Walker but even junior teammate James Mottinto get the job done. Mottin was in the area as an option-pass target for ball-carrier Keyon Prior.
"I just went up," said Hawkins, asked whether the play was designed for Mottin or himself. "I knew Keyon would throw it up there and give me a chance, so I just treated it like a rebound, went up and got it!"
"You know, I've never really played quarterback before!" laughed Prior, reminded his arm had also flung a football to established QB Hayden Farmer to stun upset-minded Pagosa Springs a week earlier. "I saw a big body in the end zone, and just threw it up for someone to go grab. Didn't care who; I just hoped someone caught it!"
Capping a 9-play, 52-yard push which consumed the last two minutes, 53 seconds of the third quarter and the first 1:10 of the fourth, the six-yard completion put the visitors up 22-14. Even though Farmer's two-point conversion throw fell incomplete, Bayfield's soul-stealing momentum swing was complete, after Salida had led 14-0 at halftime.
After scoring the winning touchdown, Hawkins fearlessly crumpled 6'2", 225-pound senior multi-sport standout Eli Smith, who was attempting a running-back option pass on the Spartans' ensuing drive.
"We got our momentum back.after halftime," Bayfield senior Reed Merchant said. "We started driving, and then play after play our confidence was getting back up. It felt overall a way better game the second half."
After Smith's gingerly departure, senior Chad Kroschel came in to punt. Kroschel had been rattled earlier by a tackle, which produced a fumble covered by Wolverine junior John Foutz. That set up Hawkins' tying 17-yard touchdown carry with 4:28 left in the third and Farmer's go-ahead two-pointer to Prior on a foiled fake,
Kroschel then shanked a 13-yard kick, positioning the Wolverines' offense at their own 47 with 9:33 remaining in the 2A Intermountain's championship clash.
And though a 12-play surge died at the SHS 13, courtesy a pass breakup by senior Vince DeLeo, Bayfield's grinder sapped four minutes, 52 seconds off Spartan Stadium's scoreboard clock, and the guests knew Salida had little choice offensively but to go aerial the rest of the way.
Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing; Salida had already had both a 46-yard David Zwingers-to-Smith TD and a 42-yard Zwingers-to-Kroschel TD erased by penalty, and had narrowly missed a possible 75-yard Zwingers-to-Smith score when the ball went off Smith's fingertips.
Zwingers had completed a 34-yarder to Smith, and a bizarre ten-yarder to Kroschel after BHS' Max McGhehey leapt and accidentally volleyball-spiked the ball down into Kroschel's hands. Complicating matters for Bayfield's defense, McGhehey was blasted in his midsection while stretched and vulnerable, and was lost for the rest of the game with possible rib damage.
All of that, however, occurred during the first two quarters; BHS had adjusted since then.
"We made Crosby (Edwards) - a great sophomore - go in, in nickel-back formation. We haven't run that all year, and he just adapted to the game," Merchant explained. "We moved David to strong safety for a little bit-had people playing all over the place! But they worked in the end!"
"When we had Max go out, it hurt a lot," admitted Hawkins. "He's our starting strong safety, and we were searching for a backup. Coach was able to come up with a crazy scheme and, we came together as a team able to pull off the win."
Two interceptions at the end of the fourth quarter sealed the deal for BHS.
Three quick snaps after DeLeo's deflection, Wolverine senior Alec Demko intercepted Zwingers at the Spartan 18 with 4:23 remaining. Salida courageously managed to force a turnover-on-downs, but after regaining possession at the 18 with only 2:10 left, Edwards camped beneath a long Zwingers heave and seized it at the Wolverine 30 with just 1:11 to go.
Two Farmer kneel-downs polished off the 22-14 triumph and Bayfield's fourth consecutive conference title, an incredible feat particularly for the squad's senior class.
"It's amazing!" Prio said. "I never got worried, either, during the game. We've been through some tough adversity, and we just learn how to deal. We're not scared when we're down, we're not scared when it's a close game; we have the confidence to come out on top."
"It's awesome," Hawkins said. "Starting as a freshman, it was an amazing deal to play with those seniors, and being able to lead this team now is even better, you know? It's an awesome feeling to win all four; there's no better way to go out."
With ONE ultimate exception, that is.
Hawkins unofficially gained 125 yards on 20 carries, while Prior managed 27 on seven and junior Dylan Hilliker 66 on eight-including a two-yard TD, initially getting the Wolverines on the board (Farmer then zipped the two-pointer to Prior, cutting the deficit to 14-8) with 7:20 left in the third.
Prior caught three passes for 27 yards and Hawkins two for 12, as Farmer was held to just 33 yards on 4-of-14 accuracy and was also intercepted by Kroschel, with only 3.1 seconds left until halftime.
In defeat, Zwingers threw for 92 yards on eight completions, while DeLeo gained 51 yards on 12 carries. Junior Ben Fuller picked up 64 on three totes, including a 50-yard TD with 5:45 left in the second quarter. Senior Ludvig Mryen's second point-after kick in as many tries then increased Salida's promising advantage to 14-0.
"Salida came out with a good game plan-pound the middle, pound the middle-and they caught us on one big play," Prior said, referring to Fuller's long run. "We got unlucky with turnovers, but I think our defense played great. Just a couple missed executions and some miscommunication."
"We really expected a pretty strong run game," said Merchant. "We knew they were going to pass a little bit, but didn't expect that good of a passing game; they played way better than we expected. It was awesome to play against them though, and that's all I can say."
Up next, Bayfield (7-1, 4-0 Intermountain) will begin the postseason hosting conference foe Montezuma-Cortez (4-5, 1-3) at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2 for a rare Friday night lights playoff game. Trounced 39-3 inside Wolverine Country Stadium on Oct. 12, the Panthers, who fell 35-0 to SHS six nights later, will return having thrashed Albuquerque Academy (1-9 overall) 54-0 on Oct. 26 in a rare late-season, out-of-state test.
Also Playoffs-bound, Salida (8-1, 3-1) will host Aspen (6-3, 3-2 Western Slope) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
CLASS 2A STATE PLAYOFFS SEEDINGS: 1.BAYFIELD (7-1), 2.Loveland Resurrection Christian (9-0), 3.Basalt (8-1), 4.La Junta (9-0), 5.Salida (8-1), 6.Kersey Platte Valley (9-0), 7.Rifle (8-1), 8.Englewood Kent Denver (8-1), 9.Arvada Faith Christian (7-2), 10.Eaton (6-3), 11.Delta (6-3), 12.Aspen (6-3), 13.Berthoud (6-3), 14.Denver D'Evelyn (7-2), 15.Alamosa (4-4), 16.Montezuma-Cortez (4-5).