GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - As Mike Mills dropped to the muddy field at Stubler Memorial Field, the football cradled in his arms, myriad thoughts raced through the junior defensive back's mind.
One stood above the rest, though.
"I knew we were going to state now," said Mills, who ran out the clock on a 25-6 win over Canon City in Saturday's 3A state semifinal with an interception. "Nothing can stop us now."
That's right. For the second time in three years, Glenwood Springs is bound for the Class 3A football state championship game. The second-seeded Demons, who won it all back in 2008, will face top-seeded Elizabeth (13-0) at Legacy Stadium in Aurora next Saturday.
"It feels great," junior Cam Avery said. "We're in the state championship. I'm so excited. We're doing it for each other. It's awesome."
On a muddy, mostly brown field in Glenwood Springs, the Demons (12-1) overcame mistakes and put up a flurry of points late to hold off the sixth-seeded Tigers.
Fourth-quarter touchdown runs by quarterback Luke Jacob delivered Glenwood an insurmountable advantage after a tense turn of events in the third quarter.
The Demons took a 12-0 lead on a pair of rushing scores by Drew Halsch - the second coming in the third quarter, but a fourth-down TD pass by Canon City's Max Javernick turned the tide with 3 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third.
Scrambling to his left on fourth-and-19 from the Glenwood 20-yard line, Javernick somehow escaped sacks by two hard-charging Demons and launched a strike to the corner of the end zone, where Matt Schwindt hauled in a 20-yard TD pass.
A botched snap on the extra-point try - a common occurrence with the day's wretched field conditions - followed and, all of a sudden, the Tigers had cut their deficit to 12-6.
"I thought we were gaining momentum," Javernick said.
But the Demons had an answer. They had an answer for just about everything Canon City threw at them.
A 17-play, 79-yard scoring drive that ate 7:45 of clock followed. Jacob, who finished with a game-best 201 yards on 33 carries, capped the march with a 7-yard TD scramble.
Glenwood's defense followed up by forcing a turnover on downs and then Jacob found the end zone again with 1:32 remaining - this time from 30 yards out.
Jacob, who threw an interception and a lost a fumble earlier in the day, more than redeemed himself down the stretch. And he did it on a slick and unforgiving field.
"Out in Colorado, we're always playing in the mud," said Jacob, whose pants, jersey and skin were caked in, well, mud. "We wanted to do everything. We didn't want to let the weather affect us in any way. We wanted to run, and pass, too. We didn't pass quite as well as we hoped, but the running game picked us up."
The senior quarterback completed just 3 of 11 passes for 58 yards. One of those three completions - a 38-yard strike to a diving Avery - sparked a scoring drive on the Demons' first possession in the third quarter.
Up 12-0, Glenwood had a buffer with which to work the rest of the way. A stingy defense and a ball-control offense took care of the rest.
Like Jacob, Halsch had a lot to do with that ball-control approach. The senior back finished with 119 yards on 23 carries. His TD runs measured 7 and 3 yards.
"We controlled the ball," Demons head coach Rocky Whitworth said. "We controlled the clock. Good things would happen when bad things would happen to us. Even with our turnovers, we seemed to hang in there. The defense played great. We were able to control the ball, which is a crucial thing in this ice rink mud bowl."
Whitworth's Demons turned the ball over three times - their first three giveaways of the postseason. But, like Whitworth said, good things almost always followed.
After Jacob threw an interception in the second quarter, Glenwood got it right back by forcing a turnover on downs. Jacob fumbled on the Demons' next possession, but Mills followed with his first of two interceptions on the afternoon.
Glenwood wasn't as lucky when a third-quarter fumble by Halsch set up Canon City's lone scoring drive.
"I think we missed opportunities a number of times today," Tigers head coach Chris Coppa said. "We certainly did miss our chances. We got some turnovers there early in the game. We just couldn't capitalize offensively."
Javernick finished up with 119 yards and three interceptions on 6-of-22 passing for Canon City, which saw a 9-4 campaign come to a halt. Schwindt hauled in four passes for 91 yards.
"This is a special group of kids," Coppa said. "There are only four other teams in the history of Canon City football that have gone farther than these guys. It's a tremendous accomplishment by these guys."