Crusaders wrap up Rams |

Crusaders wrap up Rams

G. Sean Kelly
GSPI Sports Editor
Post Independent Photo/Jim Noelker

CARBONDALE ” Having not allowed an opponent to score more than eight points all season, the Denver Christian defense came to town with the resume of a dominating defense.

In Saturday’s semifinal playoff game the Crusaders went to work, and lived up to their billing as a staunch group of defenders while earning a trip to the Class 2A state title game.

Denver Christian notched its third shutout of the year and Crusader quarterback Kenny Katte threw a pair of touchdown passes to end the Roaring Fork Rams’ playoff run with a 28-0 victory at Roaring Fork High School.

“They had an answer for everything we did,” said Rams head coach Tory Jensen of the Crusader defense. “They did everything right. Things we had done well all season, they just totally took away from us.”

One of those things the Rams had done well all season was run the ball, but the Crusaders held standout back James Leonard to just 33 yards on the ground and the Rams offense to under 100 yards in the contest.

When asked if Denver Christian’s defense was among the best the previously undefeated Rams faced this season, Roaring Fork lineman Misael Fernandez said, “By far. They are big, strong and fast. They are a lot like us, and they just wore us down.”

Despite the dominating play of the Crusader defense, Roaring Fork was up to the challenge on the defensive side of the ball, aside from a pair of plays that essentially decided the game.

“This is the most aggressive defense we’ve faced all year,” Denver Christian coach Mark Swalley said. “We thought it would be a 14-7 type of football game. It was a close, hard-fought game and a couple of plays broke it open.”

And those “couple of plays” were both of the long-ball variety.

The Crusader offense didn’t get inside the Rams 35-yard line until the final drive of the first half. Starting on the Roaring Fork 42 with just 24 seconds left in the frame, Denver Christian moved the ball to the 27 with the help of a pass interference penalty. A Crusader false-start penalty moved the ball back to the 32-yard line with 10 seconds left, but that was more than enough time.

Katte tossed a Hail Mary that Adam Hanna pulled down with a spectacular diving catch in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead heading into the intermission.

It was all the Crusaders would need, but Denver Christian gave itself some breathing room on the first play of the fourth quarter when Katte rolled out and hit Jacob Vriesman in stride for a 65-yard catch-and-run score and a 14-0 lead.

“It worked out perfectly,” Swalley said. “We got good balls delivered and the defense was phenomenal.”

To that point, other than the two scores, the Crusaders never penetrated deeper than the Rams’ 35 yard line.

“We were right there,” Jensen said. “They had a nice little play at the end of the half and got us on the long pass.”

The Crusader defense didn’t let up with the cushion. Roaring Fork, which notched just five first downs in the game, went three-and-out on the next drive. On the Rams next possession ” after being pinned inside the 10 yard line thanks to a nice punt by Travis Bowles ” Dillon Peters picked off a Dan Markoya screen pass and strolled in for the touchdown from 10 yards out with 6:06 left in the game.

The Crusaders wrapped up the scoring when Tyler Henry plunged in from a yard out with 2:51 to go in the game. The score was set up by a failed Rams fourth-and-9 conversion attempt at their own 21.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis finished as the high rusher for Denver Christian with 111 yards. Katte was 5-for-10 for 120 yards passing on the day to lead the Crusaders (11-1).

Roaring Fork ended its season with a record of 11-1. Saturday’s game was its first semifinal appearance since 1985. Still, the sting of the semifinal defeat may overshadow the season’s accomplishment for some time.

“It’s an unbelievable group,” said Jensen of his team, which graduates 17 seniors this year. “We had a good ride, but we would have liked to take the ride a little further. You get this close you want the whole thing.”

Denver Christian hosts Eaton in the state finals next weekend. It’s the first trip to the title game since 1975 for the Crusaders. Eaton, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, advanced to the final with a 28-14 victory over Faith Christian.

– In Class 3A state playoff quarterfinal action: Mountain View 29, Pueblo County 15; Florence 33, Moffat County 13; Steamboat Springs 22, D’Evelyn 0; Palisade 22, Fountain-Fort Carson 20.

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