DENVER - Though the odds seemed stacked against it, 14th-seeded Standley Lake oozed with confidence that it would break ground and secure the football program’s first playoff win in last Friday night’s Class 4A opener against No. 3 Denver South.
“They predicted South to beat us by a lot and kill us - MaxPreps saying it was going to be 31-10,’’ said Gators sophomore Conner Durant. “But that was our biggest motivation. That made the whole team mad.’’
Why, the Gators even dreamed of greater aspirations.
“We felt we were going to win if we could take away their big plays,’’ coach Don Morse said. “We felt our side of the bracket set up nice, and we really felt we could make a run for the whole thing.’’
But the celebration will have to wait - though maybe not long as the Gators currently are set to return nine offensive starters and six on defense for 2013 - as South rallied for a fourth-quarter touchdown to pull out a 26-21 victory at All City Stadium.
Standley Lake’s second playoff season (a 2009 first-round loss to Monrose) ended with a 7-4 record that also included losses to 4A powers Broomfield and Monarch, and 5A Smoky Hill. They say speed kills, and for the most part it did for the Rebels (10-1 and six straight wins since a loss to Broomfield), who advanced to play No. 6 Wheat Ridge in the quarterfinals. Pete Williams, who replaced injured University of Colorado commitment Phillip Lindsay early in the season, rushed 22 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns and Zachary Lindsay added 108 yards and a score on just six carries. South had seven plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or longer and nine from 10-19 yards, compared to Standley Lake’s two and four.
But most of South’s big plays came as it built a 20-7 lead with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
Halftime defensive adjustments - stacking the box with a 5-3 look - and some big plays by Durant keyed a Gators’ comeback for a 21-20 lead with after the third quarter.
Shortly after Williams’ second touchdown run, a 27-yarder that immediately followed a 29-yard run by Lindsay (he had a 62-yarder on his first carry of the game) for the 20-7 lead, Durant turned a short pass from fellow sophomore Jacob Naranjo into a 30-yard gain to the South 11-yard line. That set up Jordan Downing’s 4-yard touchdown.
The Gators’ defense forced a three-and-out, and Durant made South pay with a 43-yard punt return to the Rebel 5. Then, on third-and-13, Durant drew a pass interference penalty on South’s Shun Johnson for a first down at the 9. Mario Spears scored on the ensuing play, and with Tanner Flack’s extra-point kick, Standley Lake took the one-point lead into the fourth quarter.
“I’ve got to credit our offense, but mostly our defense,’’ Durant said. “We were making stops.’’
“I thought we could beat them the whole time,’’ Morse said. “I mean, they’re amazing. They’re huge, their speed is phenomenal. But defensively, I thought we played much better the second half. And offensively, I thought we moved the ball the whole game; they never really shut us down.’’
But South answered the Gators’ go-ahead score with a 60-yard, 10-play touchdown drive, which, ironically, lacked a blockbuster play but did include a fourth-and-3 quarterback keeper for seven yards by Malik Tollerson for a first down at the 26, followed by a 15-yard pass (the longest play of the drive) to Lindsay on a rollout.
Williams scored from two yards out, but a two-point conversion pass failed (South missed a PAT on its second touchdown), leaving the door open for Standley Lake to win with a touchdown.
But the Gators, who had drives of 64, 61 (ending with an interception from the South 14 near the end of the first half) and 62 yards, made just one first down on their final two possessions.
South outrushed Standley Lake 382-161 yards, but the Gators held South to 65 yards passing, including three catches for 13 yards for Kerrian Chambers and Orlando Mosley, two potent receiving targets. Spears leading the way for the Gators’ rushing attack with 53 and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Durant caught three of Naranjo’s six completions (22 attempts, two interceptions) for 76 yards.
Returning to the playoffs was a major preseason goal for Standley Lake, but that won’t suffice for 2013. “It was a big goal, but as it went on it became we needed to move in the playoffs,’’ Morse said. “We sincerely hope that next year we should be able to make a run at it.’’
“We believe we can do better than this,’’ Durant added. “Just getting to the playoffs shouldn’t be a big deal, it should be expected of us. This game should give us a big motivation to do better next year and hopefully get that first-ever playoff win in Standley Lake history.’’