Video: La Junta's Dax BenderWatch the senior in action against Bayfield.
Sometimes having a little bit of good fortune on your side can go a long way.
With a trip to the Class 2A state championship game at stake last Saturday, the La Junta
football team used a fourth-quarter rally and a break in its favor to save the day. The Tigers scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 8 minutes, and a botched two-point attempt somehow still ended up being converted to secure a 14-13 victory over defending state champion Bayfield.
That sets up a showdown at 1 p.m. Saturday in La Junta between the Tigers – making their first trip to the title game since playing in the AA game in 1962 – and Kent Denver (Englewood)
The Sun Devils were the runner-up two years ago and won it all in 2012. La Junta defeated Kent Denver 35-6 back on Sept. 23, but that game is ancient history according to Tigers coach Clint Buderus.
"Kent Denver is much improved from the last time we played them," he said. "We're going to have our hands full."
La Junta (12-0) has not won a title since 1958, but the Tigers were in the semifinals a year ago. Buderus said Monday he hadn't seen his players since Saturday, but expected they would be ready when practice rolled around.
"They're not satisfied," he said. "They're ready to go to work and finish the thing."
Bayfield gave La Junta all it could handle and then some. But quarterback Jon Nuschy
tossed a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to guide La Junta into the title game.
"After watching the film, we didn't play very good offensively," Buderus said. "We kind of put it together there at the end. Our quarterback made some plays and our receivers made some plays.
"I just knew it was going to come down to someone making a play. Our defense played well all game and gave up two big touchdown plays. They kept us in it, that's all you can ask."
Nuschy has passed for 17 touchdowns this season and rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 14 scores. Seniors Dax Bender
and Carlos Triana
have combined for 19 touchdowns on the ground and the defense has allowed roughly six points a game.
But as Buderus said, Kent Denver is in a much different place than it was in September. The Sun Devils (11-1) have won eight games in a row and are coming off a 21-14 victory over Delta in the semifinals.
Sophomore quarterback Joey Licht
tossed two touchdown passes in that game and junior Charles McKissick
rushed for 152 yards and a score.
"They spread the ball around on offense. They are real similar to us. They do things right, are very disciplined and defensively sound. They don't make mistakes, and that's why they are there," Buderus said. "They are just a dang good football team. We want to be like that. We play smart and that's exactly what they do there."
Buderus isn't concerned about the experience factor of playing in a state title game, pointing out that his team was one victory away from being there a year ago. Facing Kent Denver for a second time is a bigger focus.
"They now have the revenge factor," he said. "I think the biggest thing in our kids' minds is they have to forget about the last game because they're a different team now."Class 1A
No. 2 Strasburg (12-0) at No. 1 Meeker (12-0), 1 p.m., Saturday
It's fitting that the 1A championship will be decided by the top two seeds Saturday afternoon. Meeker hasn't been in a title game since finishing as the runner-up in 1995 and 1996; Strasburg, which dropped down to 1A this season, won the 2A crown in 1990.
Meeker had to rally with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to get past Bennett 34-24 in the semifinals. Junior Logan Hughes
had three touchdown passes, and seniors Hunter Garcia
and Cole Brown
each finished with more than 100 yards receiving. Meeker's defense came up with three sacks and two turnovers.
A defense that allowed 20 or more points only twice this season figures to be tested by a Strasburg offense that averages 49 points a game. The Indians drubbed Paonia 49-28 in the semis behind 153 yards and two rushing touchdowns from Hunter Bergstrom
, and two TDs through the air from senior Conner Martin
. Bergstrom and Chase Starman
each caught a score.
Coincidentally for Strasburg, its entire playoff run will come against the Western Slope League. The Indians have already defeated Grand Valley (Parachute), Cedaredge and Paonia. Martin has 22 touchdown passes on the season and Bergstrom, Starman and Jeremy Ladd
have combined for 37 rushing scores.Class A 8-Man
No. 3 Akron (10-2) at No. 1 Sedgwick County (Julesburg) (11-1), 1 p.m., Saturday
The 2016 postseason has played out in a similar fashion to a year ago, and the same two teams will decide the 8-Man championship. Last fall Sedgwick County defeated Akron 36-6, and gets the opportunity to defend its title Saturday.
The Cougars defeated Hoehne 27-8, the team's ninth consecutive victory since falling to Perkins County (Neb.) early in the season. Sedgwick County's defense has allowed a combined 14 points over its past five games and had three interceptions against the Farmers. Junior Brennan Ehmke
threw three touchdown passes, two of which went to senior Chad Mikelson
Akron was also the third seed a year ago, and for the second consecutive season upended the No. 2 seed to reach the title game. This time the Rams held off previously undefeated Sargent 33-32, rushing for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore Derrick Poss
led the way with 146 yards and a score, junior Tyler Wylie
went for 105 yards and a touchdown, and senior Levi Basler