MONTROSE – At 18 minutes before kick-off, the captains of the Montrose High School football team emerged from a meeting with head coach Todd Casebier to join the rest of the team in the locker room. It was the coach's last attempt to focus the team leaders before taking the field. Kneeling down, hand-in-hand with his players, the salty-haired coach and his team recited the Lord's Prayer. Each player held hands with, or touched the shoulders of, two teammates.
It marked the start of a long, exhausting day, and when the last second ticked off the scoreboard, the Indians had outlasted the visiting Montbello Warriors for a 31-25 first-round playoff win.
But before the game, in the locker room, nearly every player sat silent, some with far-off stares on their faces. During pregame warmups, some members of the Montbello team derided the Indians, poking fun at the condition of the team’s home turf, making desultory comparisons to their artificial turf field in northeast metro Denver.
Casebier addressed the team to get their minds straight.
"I'll tell you what I just told the captains: You can't let somebody else get you out of your game," Casebier said. "Warming up great doesn't necessarily win football games. It's preparation that wins football game…and a bunch of of hard work; that's why you’re here."
Saturday, Nov. 9 was an ideal day for football in Montrose. Earlier at Columbine Middle School, the Montrose Cherokees defeated Delta 25-0 in the annual Super Bowl between the two communities. Represented the Montrose Youth Football League, the Cherokees and were undefeated for the season.
Virtually everywhere in Montrose, Tuesday's big election was just a memory. Saturday was all about Montrose football: banners, balloons, cheering, and the vibe of a winning team with a challenge right up in its grille.
"So make no mistake, you're here because you got here busting your ass,” Casebier told the team. “Don't change one thing today, fellas; do what we do, do it together and you'll be fine. You’re playing a good football team; they are not going to roll over for you. They are going to hit you, sometimes after the whistle. And if you retaliate, we don't get the 15 yards. Play football the way you have been taught, the way you have been coached. And enjoy this day, me; they don't happen very often. I'm proud of you guys I'm proud to be your coach. Let's go do this!"
Players rose their their feet, cleats crunching on the cold concrete floor.
"If you don't believe, don't step out there," one captain yelled over the noise. "I love every one of you guys."
The team burst into a cheer, then walked out into the sunlight, to a capacity home crowd.
REMEMBER THE INDIANS
The game had elements of November playoff football, including a final score that wasn't decided until the last minute. The team's rushing attack was led by Angelo Youngren, from a collarbone injury; he rushed for 186 yards on 32 carries and Mike Rocha who added 96 yards on 19 carries. Rocha also scored three of the Indians' four touchdowns, including the third and final touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The other touchdown came from receiver Peter Shearer, who hauled in a 40-yard pass from quarterback Kameron DeVincentis in the second quarter. DeVincentis was three-for-seven for 77 yards passing and one interception. Sophomore Lucas Ruiz-Diaz also tacked on a 22-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Montbello scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to cut deficit to one score. The Indians defense held strong to prevent a comeback, led by seniors Gavin Brown, who fought through sickness, vomiting at half-time to return in the second half, and Connor Husky, whose number 62 was listed in nearly every tackle.
The key play of the fourth quarter was just after Montbello's last touchdown, with the Warriors going for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 24. Defensive end Irah Wooten swatted away a pass attempt, and the Indians held on to a 24-22 lead, took the ensuing kickoff and marching 82 yards on seven plays to tack on the final touchdown.
The Indians’ defense made sure to send the trash-talking Warriors on their way late Saturday afternoon with a souvenirs – real dirt, from a real field – smeared on their uniforms.
In recent years, first-round playoff defeats have been the story, but not this year. As Casebier noted in his pre-game talk, a victory Saturday would make those memories fade quickly, and he was proven right. At midfield, just after the game, as the shadows were lengthening on the field, friends, families and fans of "Big Red" celebrated together, with the pain of those past knock-out losses gone.
NOW THERE ARE EIGHT
Last week, Casebier told the team there were only 16 teams left in Class 4A. “Next week,” he told them, “we want to be part of the eight who are left."
Now, that goal has been met. On Saturday, Nov. 16, the Indians (10-1),(3-1) host Denver South (9-2)(5-0) – who defeated Durango 36-26 – in the second round of the playoffs. Game time set for 1 p.m. at MHS.
Other playoff games in 4A this weekend include Windsor at Pine Creek, Friday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m.; Loveland at Monarch Friday at 7 p.m. and Pueblo South at Dakota Ridge Saturday, Nov. 16, at 1 p.m.