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Dakota dropped by Heritage

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By Dan Johnson

LITTLETON — Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to your opponent and say ‘job well done.’

Dakota Ridge was trounced by Heritage 56-24 in its final game of the 2009 season on Nov. 7 at Littleton Public Schools Stadium, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.

Dakota Ridge tried everything it could to slow down Heritage wide receiver, Shane Opitz, but the 6-foot-2, 181-pounder was just too big and too fast.

Opitz caught four passes on the evening, all for touchdowns. He has 21 receiving touchdowns on the season, which is a new Colorado state record. For good measure, Opitz intercepted a pass and returned it 68 yards for a score, too.

“We were out-athleted,” Dakota Ridge coach Ron Woitalewicz said. “He made plays and it’s no fault of our kids, we were right there with him on most of them.”

It wasn’t Opitz that started the rout, though, it was tailback Jimmy Hills, who took the first play from scrimmage 80 yards for a touchdown. That set an unsettling trend for the Dakota Ridge defense, as they allowed Heritage to score four touchdowns on its first four drives – taking just 11 plays to take a 28-3 lead after one quarter.

Opitz finished the day with four catches for 163 yards and quarterback Mitch Griebel was 6-of-7 passing for 205 yards with the four touchdown throws to Opitz. Griebel also had a 65-yard touchdown run.

Dakota Ridge, meanwhile, sputtered offensively after a solid opening drive that produced a 43-yard field goal by Keaton Greenstreet. The Eagles would give up 49 straight points before scoring late in the fourth quarter.

“We never got in a rhythm offensively,” Woitalewicz said. “I thought we had a chance when they scored right away and we answered back with a long field goal but our Achilles heel all season has been big plays on defense.”

The big plays kept Dakota Ridge out of the game and out of the Class 4A playoffs for the first time since 2006 as they finished the year with a 6-4 record.

“We had a lot of young guys out there on both sides of the ball this year,” Woitalewicz said. “We’re returning eight starters on both sides of the ball, and that’s the good news. I feel bad for our seniors who don’t get to finish their careers with a playoff game.”

One of those seniors is Steven Barber, who was a constant presence in opponents’ backfields. Barber, who’s also an accomplished long-snapper, will be missed.

“He’s one of the best kids I’ve coached,” Woitalewicz said. “He’s always going 100 miles per hour. He was the heart and soul of this team and I’m going to miss him.”