As if being forced to remember they'd just lost the lead which they'd so doggedly built up and managed to hold for nearly three quarters, visiting Montezuma-Cortez began what ended up being their final possession of 2018 at their own 25-yard line. Then they quickly find themselves going backwards - nearer and nearer to the Wolverine Country Stadium scoreboard brightly showing Bayfield suddenly ahead, 19 to 14.
Still hoping to pull off a rare 16-over-1 upset in the Class 2A State Playoffs' first round on Friday night, Nov. 2, senior Panther quarterback Ike Dennison had little choice but to go aerial with 4:42 remaining. Dennison knew BHS would be shadowing junior running back Valentino Rodriguez, who'd already rushed for nearly 150 yards.
Having already intercepted Dennison twice during the first half while keeping themselves in the game, the ready Wolverines pressed him into throwing incomplete on first down. Senior Isaac Lorenzen then crashed into the pocket and sacked Dennison for a 7-yard loss on second, and on third senior Rhett Hoover chased Dennison down for an 8-yard loss back to the Panther's 10.
"I had Isaac and Daniel (Westbrook) putting pressure on with me, so they just made my job easier," Hoover said. "They were picking up the running backs' blocking, so I give thanks to them - they played their butts off today. It felt great."
"That team was good; they came out and obviously...wanted to play," Westbrook said. "But pushing them back like that, actually starting to play Wolverine football, was a blessing. It felt great; I'll be honest."
Dennison managed to punt from his end zone, and the ball traveled all the way to the Wolverine 41. But with only 2:50 remaining and their home crowd roaring, Bayfield prevailed by five points in the final score. Senior David Hawkins ripped off a 19-yard run on first down, then gained six and nine, respectively, on his next two totes, almost giving the impression the Wolverines were looking to score again, rather than merely kill time. Senior quarterback Hayden Farmer then concluded the battle with two kneel-downs in victory formation.
"To have played another 'Friday Night Lights,' I was shook; I'm not going to lie," senior Keyon Prior said, speaking on the post-season atmosphere as a whole. "Cortez came ready and they busted a few on us, but in the end of the game we had the mentality that we're not going to lose this game."
"Our D-line stepped it up, and everyone started playing well."
"We were nervous for a second," admitted Hoover, "but we pulled through. My brothers gave their hearts tonight, left it all on the field. Cortez came out hard, but we came out with heart and barely managed to pull it off."
"We wanted to come out here ready to play, and we obviously didn't show that the first half," Westbrook said. "We came out kind of slow and they scored seven on us. But after halftime, we had a 'mental' talk in the locker room, and it really boosted us, really helped."
With the Panthers still holding a tense 7-0 lead, Rodriguez appeared to take it upon himself to curb BHS' re-found enthusiasm. After nearly breaking an 83-yard kickoff return, Rodriguez picked up 25 yards down to the Bayfield 35 on first down, gained four more on second, then sped around right end for a 31-yard score with 10:26 left in the third.
Senior kicker Chance Cote's second point-after try was also good, giving the underdog a 14-0 advantage and sending Wolverine fans into collective shock.
The two teams then traded punts before the Wolverines (8-1 overall) finally got on the board via a 57-yard connection between Farmer and Prior with 6:15 left, completing a 2-play, 57-yard drive. Trenton Harrison, recently designated BHS' kicker with senior Max McGhehey sidelined and done for the year, booted the PAT to halve the guests' lead.
M-CHS (4-6 overall) went three-and-out in reply, with Dennison throwing three incompletions, but after a Dennison punt, the Panthers went back on offense at BHS' 39 after senior Vincent Conklin recovered a fumble with 5:37 left.
Rodriguez broke through for 21 yards on second down, but after Bayfield junior John Foutz sacked Dennison for an 8-yard loss back to the 28, a penalty pushed M-CHS back to the 33, making head coach Scott Conklin reconsider having Cote attempt a field goal of about 50 yards.
Dennison then punted, with the kick resulting in a touchback with 1:55 still left. Helped by a Montezuma-Cortez personal-foul penalty, the Wolverines' drive, which carried into the final quarter, reached the visitors' 39 before dying on incomplete deep throws targeting Prior and sophomore Crosby Edwards.
Two plays later, however, Prior alertly recognized an incomplete Dennison throw was actually a backwards lateral and still a live ball just inches away from the Bayfield sideline. With assistant coach Don Funke shouting at him to scoop up the unexpected gift, Prior managed to tip-toe down to the Panthers' 32 with 10:59 left in regulation. Five runs later, Prior scampered right, then left for a 17-yard score. Keeping everyone in the house on pins and needles, Harrison unluckily missed the extra point-leaving Montezuma-Cortez still with a 14-13 lead.
But the home team at last had the momentum it couldn't sustain during the first half.
A pass-breakup by junior Dylan Hilliker helped stop M-CHS' next series, and Dennison punted yet again. Beginning at their own 31 with 8:35 remaining, BHS pulled out all the stops with none bigger than Prior scrambling for a first down at the 43 via a fake-punt play apparently designed to be a pass.
"I knew Cortez wanted to run time out," Prior explained. "So I just made that decision in my head, rolled out and they rolled with me. I cut back, got some good blocks from my linemen, and I was able to fight for the first."
"I did get a little nervous," he noted, "but I had confidence in my teammates."
Farmer then zipped a 7-yard sideline dart to Edwards at midfield, Hawkins then gained six into Panther territory, and Hilliker broke free for runs of 14 and 12 yards, reaching the M-CHS 18 before a penalty pushed BHS back to the 27. With coach Gary Heide making the night's second-gutsiest call, Bayfield reached the Panthers' 5-yard line with Hilliker (5-67 rushing, unofficially) taking a reverse handoff from Prior and racing 22 yards.
Later to remind his concurring teammates in a post-game address that football doesn't have to be pretty, Hawkins then crashed in for the touchdown with 4:49 left. And though Farmer's two-point run was stopped, the Wolverines were finally their take-no-prisoners selves again.
"We were down 14-nothing, but the thought of losing never crossed my mind," said Prior (12-52 rushing, 4-97 receiving). "I feel so relieved and so happy to win another one here with my boys."
Farmer unofficially finished 8-of-19 passing for 123 yards, while Dennison ended up 7-of-16 for 54 and was picked off by BHS' Alec Demko and Cael Schaefer.
Up next, Bayfield will journey north to Arvada and meet Faith Christian in the quarterfinals.
The 9-seed Eagles (8-2) enjoyed something of a first-round upset the afternoon after hearing of BHS' come-from-behind win, as they clipped #8 Englewood Kent Denver (8-2) by a 9-7 count not indicative of their offensive potency.
Faith Christian won five games this season by scoring 40 or more points, and won three of those scoring at least 50.
Kickoff on Saturday, Nov. 10, between the Wolverines and Eagles is set for 1 p.m. Dan Ford and Justin Ross will be calling the game on KPTE 92.9 FM, and the game will be broadcast on the CHSAA sports network for a fee. The Pine Cone in Bayfield is set to show Saturday's game to fans who can't make the trip to Denver.
"We're going to work on not turning the ball over so much, and our line's going to work on blocking better; we didn't have too great a night," said Hoover. "But I know, we'll come out there and give it our all."
"I just want to be rested up this week, and I want everyone to be safe going out - rest up, be healthy," Westbrook said. "It doesn't matter to me whether we travel or we're here; I want to go out with our mental attitude in the right place."