LAKEWOOD — There were any number of reasons why Dakota Ridge saw its 4A state championship hopes dashed at the hands of Pueblo South 27-21 on Nov. 16 at Jeffco Stadium. There were the three turnovers, the three Pueblo South drives that started in Eagles’ territory or the goal-line stand by the Colts that stopped Dakota Ridge at the 1-yard line in the first quarter.
Pick your poison. There’s plenty of ammunition.
And still Dakota Ridge was knocking on the door late, threatening for a second straight thrilling playoff victory before Garrett Krage’s interception of a Braxton Thais pass inside the Pueblo South 30-yard line with 31.8 seconds left sealed the Eagles’ fate. Fifth-seeded Pueblo South (11-1), behind three Krage TD runs, advances to play top-seeded Montrose in the semifinals.
“I think at the end to have a chance to win is all that you can ask for. We just had too many mistakes, too many dropped balls. We don’t get in from the 1 down there. It’s tough against any good team, especially a playoff team,” Dakota Ridge head coach Ron Woitalewicz said. “They get the ball at the 40-, 20-yard line and have to go on short drives. It’s tough to top anybody, especially a good team like that. We didn’t convert when we needed to. Too many mistakes ended up costing us. They capitalized on our mistakes, and that’s what good teams do.”
The last one ended 13th-seeded Dakota Ridge’s season with an 8-4 record.
The Eagles shot themselves in the foot time and again, be it an Aaron Nelson fumble on Dakota Ridge’s opening possession that led to the first of Krage’s TD runs or Thais being stopped twice at the 1-yard line late in the first quarter. Still, Dakota Ridge, which was in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, was within striking distance until Krage’s late pick.
“The defense they took a shot and jumped the route. It was my mistake. It was good on their part to take that shot,” Thais said.
That said, if not for the play of Thais and his teammates Dakota Ridge wouldn’t have been in position to pull off a second straight last-minute victory. Nelson atoned for his early miscue with a 1-yard TD run to the game at 7 at halftime. Then, just like against Falcon a week earlier, a missed extra point — this time a block by Brian Collins after a 20-yard Nathan Spinuzzi TD run — opened the door for the Eagles.
The score gave Pueblo South a 13-7 lead, but on Dakota Ridge’s ensuing drive, the Eagles drove 8 yards on 11 plays, capped by a Thais 36-yard TD strike to Nick Cohn. Zach Barwick’s extra point gave Dakota Ridge a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter.
Though the Colts got TD runs of 16 and 6 yards on back-to-back drives from Krage to go ahead 27-14 early in the fourth quarter, Dakota Ridge found a way to give itself a chance.
First came a 15-play, 80-yard drive capped on fourth down by a Thais’ 8-yard TD pass to Jake Sanchez to close within 27-21 with 5:01 remaining. Then when Keith Nosker recovered a Krage fumble at the Dakota Ridge 46 with 2:48 left, the Eagles had their chance.
“We did have an opportunity. It just didn’t happen for us this time,” Nosker said.
Contact Michael Hicks at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.