Rams hang on late for big win over Titans
In a game of many highs and lows Friday for both the Coal Ridge Titans and the Roaring Fork Rams on the Titans’ Senior Night in New Castle, the Rams were able to come up with a big defensive stop late to top the Titans, 14-10, in a big 2A Western Slope League matchup.
Following a Roaring Fork turnover on downs deep in Coal Ridge territory, the Rams’ defense — missing its best player in senior Aldo Pinela — came up with a big stop late in the game thanks to a high snap by the Titans that sailed over senior quarterback Jackson Sargent’s head to wrap up the big win on the road, marking the third straight win for the Rams in the 2A WSL.
“I’m very proud of these boys, especially today,” Roaring Fork Head Coach Jeff Kelley said. “We lost Aldo in the first quarter [to injury], and with all do respect, they lost two or three of their best players, so it was a battle of second-string guys. Everybody struggles towards the end with academic eligibility and injuries; we’re in that boat, and I see Coal Ridge is in that boat as well.”
Early on in the first quarter it looked like it could be a long night for the Rams as senior quarterback Hayden Bernot fumbled the football away on a nice run, giving the Titans possession near midfield.
But on the first play by the Titans, Sargent found junior receiver Stephen Pizzelli for four yards before the wideout coughed up the football to the Rams. Fortunately for Coal Ridge, the Rams were forced into a quick three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Titans at their own 37 yard line following a short Roaring Fork punt.
Junior running back Jacx Power kicked things off for the Titans on their second drive with a nice 12-yard run up the gut before Sargent found Pizzelli two plays later on a lucky tipped pass that fell back down to Pizzelli’s outstretched arms for a big 33-yard gain, setting the Titans up in the red zone.
Facing a 3rd and Goal from the 6-yard line a few plays later on the drive, Sargent scrambled to his left and found fellow senior tight end Tyler Slone in the back of the end zone for what appeared to be a sure six points, but the ball fell to the ground incomplete, forcing the Titans to settle for a 22-yard field goal from sophomore Oscar Salazar to give Coal Ridge a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Up three, the Titans defense clamped down on the Rams without the likes of senior safety Jacob Morgan, junior corner Raul Ramirez and Power, all of whom were forced out of the game with injuries. Forcing a quick three-and-out once again, the Titans got the ball back to their offense, which quickly went to work on the ground against the Rams.
Senior Eddy Baez rushed for 14 yards on the drive, while freshman running back Jared Whitaker — playing in place of Power — added six yards on three carries on the drive while drawing a face mask penalty on the Rams to give Coal Ridge great field position inside Roaring Fork territory.
Five plays later following the face mask, Sargent found Pizzelli wide open behind the Roaring Fork secondary for a 30-yard touchdown to put the Titans up 10-0 midway through the second quarter.
Things seemed to be coming up all Titans on the night, but the ensuing kickoff quickly changed the perspective of the game.
Despite a great kickoff by Salazar, Roaring Fork return man Eli Garcia scooped up the ball off of its second bounce, turned the corner on the Coal Ridge coverage team and raced untouched 85 yards for the score to cut the lead to 10-7 with six minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Seemingly a little rocked on their heels and without three of their best players on the field, the Titans then proceeded to go three-and-out on their next offensive possession before responding with a forced fumbled on Roaring Fork’s next possession as Sargent wrapped up Bernot just past the line of scrimmage and forced the ball free.
Near midfield with time winding down in the first half, the Titans mounted an offensive drive as Baez rushed for eight yards, while Sargent found Pizzelli twice for a total of 17 yards and Slone once for 10 yards, setting up a 49-yard field goal try by Salazar with seconds remaining on the clock.
The strong-legged Salazar boomed the kick towards the uprights, but the long kick fell just yards short, sending the two teams into the half with the Titans clinging to a 10-7 lead.
Coming out of the break, Coal Ridge looked to tack on a score to give the shorthanded Titans some breathing room, but the offense quickly went three-and-out.
Punting the ball away to Roaring Fork, Jake Kelley fielded the punt near his own 30-yard line and quickly raced into Coal Ridge territory for what appeared to be a solid 37-yard punt return, but a holding call on the Rams wiped out the big return.
That didn’t bother the Rams’ offense one bit though as big plays came hard and fast for Roaring Fork on its first offensive possession of the second half.
Bernot kicked things off with a big 18-yard run before then turning to running back Jassiel Petatan — taking on a big workload in place of the injured Pinela — who raced off the left side for 15 yards.
Bernot followed that up two plays later with a 21-yard scamper down to the 2-yard line for the Rams before an illegal formation penalty set them back five yards.
That didn’t matter for the Rams as Bernot took the next play in for a touchdown from seven yards out to put the Rams up 14-10 midway through the third quarter.
“At the half Coach Holley said to Hayden that this is your game to act like an All-League quarterback,” Kelley said. “Quite frankly he came out in the second half and his running game led us to the victory.”
From there the two teams traded turnovers on downs as the Titans drove into Roaring Fork territory both times but couldn’t come away with points.
On their final drive of the game, the Titans started at their own 20-yard line following a big turnover on downs by the Rams. The Titans methodically marched across midfield with roughly three minutes remaining in the game, but an incomplete pass from Sargent intended for Pizzelli and a high snap that Sargent had no chance of catching sealed the Titans’ fate on an emotional Senior Night.
“I’ve very proud of the kids tonight as we had a lot of guys step up when we needed them to,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Trorie Rickert said. “We hadn’t really practiced to lose three of our best players, but we definitely had kids in order who could step in. They battled hard and it’s one that I thought we should have gotten. I know both sides were down some players but we just kept battling and fighting. I thought we were going to have chance score there at the end, but that just didn’t happen.
“I just told the kids after the game how proud of them I was and how much I love them. I care about these kids a lot; I’ve had most of these kids for a long time and taught most of them in middle school, so that part is hard. One or two plays can make a huge difference in a game and tonight we just couldn’t take advantage.”
With the loss, Coal Ridge falls to 1-7 (1-3 2A WSL) on the season.
The Titans will travel to Steamboat next Friday for the final regular season game against the Sailors.
Roaring Fork improves to 3-5 (3-1 2A WSL) on the season.
The Rams will celebrate Senior Night next Friday against the rival Basalt Longhorns in a game which will likely have 2A WSL league championship implications on the line.
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