BAYFIELD – Montezuma-Cortez put a scare into the defending state champion Bayfield Wolverines and was within five minutes of pulling off only the fourth upset of a No. 1 team by a No. 16 team in the history of Colorado’s high school football playoffs.
Bayfield High School (8-1) once again showed the heart of a champion, though. For the second consecutive week, the Wolverines scored three unanswered second-half touchdowns to storm past their opponent. Last week, it was a 22-14 win at Salida in the Class 2A Intermountain League championship game. Friday night, it was a 19-14 win against the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers (4-6) in the first round of the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A State Football Playoffs at Wolverine Country Stadium.
“That’s just our heart,” said Bayfield senior Keyon Prior. “Ever since we were younger, we fight until the end. That’s our Wolverine heart. We never give up, and I’m proud of my brothers for that.”
The win extended Bayfield’s school record, home-winning streak to 24 games. The Wolverines still have not lost to a league opponent since 2014, a loss to the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers.
Friday night was the Panthers’ first playoff game since 2014, and the team played every bit like a contender and showed vast improvement from a 39-3 loss at Bayfield earlier in the season.
“There’s no words,” Panthers’ head coach Scott Conklin said. “These guys just battled. Of course we’re proud. We took the No. 1 seed down to the last minute. I’ve been with these guys since third grade. They did everything we thought they’d do this year.”
Montezuma-Cortez scored on a seven-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ike Dennison to Cordell Baer with 1 minute, 56 seconds to go in the first quarter. The Panthers (4-6) added to that lead on the first drive of the third quarter behind three consecutive runs from Vallentino Rodrgiuez, who had returned the second half kickoff out to the Panthers’ 40-yard line. Rodriguez ran for gains of 25, four and 31 yards to get into the end zone and give the Panthers a stunning 14-0 lead with 10:26 to play in the third quarter.
“He just gave us speed, vision,” Conklin said. “He filled in good. (Jacob) Schuster was laid out and hurt. Tino, he showed great vision tonight. We just got him back, and he gave us a spark in the running game.”
Rodriguez finished with 139 yards on only 15 carries. He tormented the Bayfield defense.
“He was amazing,” Prior said. “I was getting so angry that I wanted to play safety. We would blitz, and they would just run the opposite side, and he would bust out. It was so frustrating. Our defense, it’s known the weakness is the pass game. For us to get pounded on the run game just hurts a little bit, but we’re gonna work on that in practice this week and move on from it.”
Montezuma-Cortez had the 14-0 lead in the third quarter and got the ball back after a Bayfield punt to the Panthers’ 6-yard line But the Panthers would go three-and-out and punt it away. With good field position, it didn’t take Bayfield long to strike and make it a one-score game. BHS senior quarterback Hayden Farmer rolled to his left and slung a sidearm pass down the field to a streaking Prior, who hauled in the pass and took it 57 yards for the Wolverines’ first touchdown. Backup kicker Trenton Harrison, kicking in place of injured Max McGhehey, made the first extra point attempt of his varsity career, and Bayfield had cut the deficit to 14-7 with 6:15 to play.
Instead of going back to Rodriguez, the Panthers ran three consecutive pass plays that went for incompletions. Only 14 seconds ran off the clock, and the Panthers punted.
But it wouldn’t cost Montezuma-Cortez, as Bayfield fumbled the ball for the fourth time in the game and lost the fumble for the second time on a botched pitch play, which has plagued the team all season. Chris Matimba recovered for the Panthers, and Montezuma-Cortez had it on the Bayfield 39-yard line. Rodriguez got the team rolling, but the drive stalled as the Panthers were trying to run clock and were caught with a delay of game. The team lined up for a 45-yard field goal try, but another delay of game forced the team into a punt.
Bayfield would again punt on its next possession, but the game changed in a flash on the next Montezuma-Cortez series. Dennison tried a lateral pass out toward the Bayfield sideline. The pass was behind the receiver, and the ball rolled toward the Bayfield sideline. Prior was able to get to the loose ball and recover the fumble just before stepping out of bounds, and he gave the Wolverines life and the ball on the Montezuma-Cortez 32-yard line.
“I saw the ball and didn’t hear a whistle,” Prior said. “Coach was talking all game that they throw that swing pass and sometimes he throws it behind him, so I didn’t hear a whistle, sprinted for it and got it. I was so sad I stepped out of bounds and didn’t take it for a touchdown. I lost my balance and started to cramp up a little bit, but we just gotta make big plays like that.”
A few plays later, Prior scored a touchdown on a 17-yard run. The Wolverines were unable to make the extra point, though, and Montezuma-Cortez still led 14-13 with 9:35 to play in the fourth quarter.
“I was so excited,” Prior said. “I sat on the bench like, ‘We got this. Our defense is balling out. We just gotta execute one more drive on offense and we’re good.’ I knew we could.”
Bayfield’s defense forced another Montezuma-Cortez punt, and the Wolverines had the ball on their own 31 with 8:35 to play. It looked as though the team would punt again as the clock ticked closer to seven minutes to go. But, on fourth-and-4, Prior ran a fake punt. He danced around looking for a hole, found one up the middle and plowed through three Panthers on a second and third effort to gain five yards and extend the drive.
Junior slash player Dylan Hilliker ripped off runs of 14, 12 and 20 yards to get Bayfield inside the Panthers’ 5, and senior running back David Hawkins, who surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the season earlier in the game, scored on a 5-yard run off the left tackle to give Bayfield a 19-14 lead. The team would miss a 2-point conversion, as Farmer was stopped short of the goal line on a run, but the 19-14 lead held until the final whistle.
“My line told me, ‘Hey, just go off my butt,’ and I followed them, listened to them and trusted the plays,” Hilliker said of his big runs to set up the score. “I felt like I was contributing, and it felt great. I was doing whatever I could to get us closer to score.”
Montezuma-Cortez had one more chance, but the Wolverines came up with back-to-back sacks, as John Foutz, Rhett Hoover, Isaac Lorenzen and Daniel Westbrook blew past their blockers to bring down Dennison to secure a victory.
Bayfield got the ball back with 2:50 to play, and the Panthers still had two timeouts, but big runs from Hawkins iced the game.
“We were nervous for a second, but we pulled through,” Hoover said. “I’m thankful to have my brothers that gave their hearts tonight and left it all on the field. Cortez came out hard and with heart. We barely managed to pull it off.”
Dennison finished the game 7-of-16 passing for 52 yards, one touchdown and an interception by Bayfield’s Alec Demko. He missed a few plays with a tight hamstring after helping lead the team down the field in the second quarter, and Ty Blackmer came in to replace him. He went 1-for-2 for four yards and an interception to Bayfield’s Cael Schaefer.
Montezuma-Cortez limited Farmer to 7-of-18 passing for 130 yards and one touchdown. The Panthers’ defense didn’t allow a first down in the first quarter, as the one big play from the Wolverines, a long run from Prior, was called back for a hurdling violation.
“This was our goal,” Conklin said. “We got here and almost pulled off something big. Coach (Gary) Heide and Bayfield, they’re just tough.”
Prior finished with nine carries for 57 yards and a touchdown, and he added four catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Hawkins rushed for 87 yards on 19 carries after he was held to 16 yards on nine carries in the first half.
Now, Bayfield will prepare to face the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 9 Faith Christian and No. 8 Kent Denver. If Kent Denver wins, Bayfield will host next Saturday. If Faith Christian wins, the Wolverines would go on the road.
No matter who the Wolverines play or where, they know they have to play much better football to get back to the semifinals for a fourth consecutive year. Hoover said the team would work on limiting turnovers and blocking better up front.
“We’ve been inconsistent this year and haven’t found a way to fix that in the first half,” Prior said. “It’s just about a sense of urgency. When we come out the beginning of the game, especially against a team we already killed, I think we’re just not playing with a sense of urgency. We didn’t realize this could really be our last game. As it gets closer to the end of the game, we play with urgency and fight through it.”