Rams rally for berth in semis
ESTES PARK ” The Roaring Fork Rams only led for 50 seconds in their quarterfinal playoff game here Saturday.
But it was the last 50 seconds.
“Those were the only seconds we needed,” head coach Tory Jensen said.
Roaring Fork overcame two fumbles, a late interception and a 14-point deficit to beat the Bobcats 21-17 on a James Leonard 19-yard touchdown run in the final minute.
With the win, the Rams (11-0) advance to the semifinal round of the Class 2A state football playoffs for the first time in Jensen’s seven-year tenure.
After three quarters of fighting themselves as much as Estes Park (9-2), the Rams offensive line began to take over in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 17-7, Max Green scored on a 10-yard run with 7:51 left in the game to cut the lead to 17-14.
The Rams defense held Estes Park on the next drive and Roaring Fork was moving the ball at will with a two-pronged backfield attack of Leonard and Max Green. The two seniors alternated carries and averaged nearly 12 yards per carry for four plays to move the ball to the Bobcat 33 with just over four minutes left.
Then the Rams went to the air.
Estes Park intercepted quarterback Dan Markoya at the 22-yard line, and what looked like a sure shot of at least a game-tying field-goal attempt quickly evaporated.
While it was certainly a blow to the Rams chances, it wasn’t a kill shot.
On the sideline it was “business as usual,” said Jensen. The feeling was, “Let’s just get the ball back and do it again.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
Estes Park went three-and-out and, after a short punt, the Rams got the ball back on the Bobcat 45 with 3:29 left in the game.
And this time Roaring Fork stayed grounded. Green or Leonard carried the ball on all eight plays in the drive. The touchdown run came on a fourth-and-4 from the 19 by Leonard.
“It was a slugfest, and it was kind of nice having both those kids back there to run,” Jensen said.
And it was also a slugfest in which the Rams wore down their opponent. After having trouble moving the ball against the Bobcats in the first half, the Rams offensive line was dominant in the fourth quarter.
“(Strength coach Matt) Hauptley had those kids work so hard on conditioning,” Jensen said. “Our kids were through the roof and basically (the Bobcats) didn’t have an answer” late in the game.
Leonard finished with 144-yards rushing, while Green racked up 105.
The contest didn’t start out as well for Roaring Fork as it finished. Roaring Fork fumbled twice on handoff exchanges and the Bobcats turned both miscues into touchdowns.
After a 70-yard Estes Park punt, fullback Ryan Donnelly fumbled on the exchange inside the Rams 10. The Bobcats quickly turned it into a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
Roaring Fork’s next miscue came when Leonard missed the handoff at the Estes Park 25-yard line. The Bobcats made the Rams pay with a scoring drive capped by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Eric Carlson to Miles Coffin for a 14-0 lead in the final minute of the first quarter.
“For some reason we keep putting the ball on the ground early in the game and giving the other team an advantage,” Jensen said. “We’ve got to play better in the first half. We can’t keep doing this, or maybe we can, but I’d like to not have that battle.”
Markoya cut the lead to 14-7 with a 30-yard touchdown strike to Taylor Arbaney with 2:15 left in the half. Estes Park pushed the lead back up to 10 points with a field goal midway through the third quarter before the fourth-quarter rally.
“Our offensive and defensive lines did a great job when they needed to and our assistant coaches had a great game plan,” Jensen said.
Roaring Fork hosts Denver Christian on Saturday in the semifinal round. Denver Christian (10-1) defeated Brush 35-7 to advance.
In other Class 2A quarterfinal playoff games: Eaton 28, Eagle Valley 12; Faith Christian 53, Weld Central 22.
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.