By Tim Donohoo
For the Courier
FALCON — It all came down to an extra-point conversion.
Junior place-kicker Zach Barwick’s extra point after senior quarterback Braxton Thais drove Dakota Ridge 65 yards in 1 minute, 13 seconds lifted the 13th-seeded Eagles to a stunning 42-41 victory over fourth-seeded and host Falcon on Nov. 9 in the first round of the 4A state football playoffs. The win sends upset-minded Dakota Ridge into the quarterfinals Nov. 16 at Jeffco Stadium against fifth-seeded Pueblo South, a 38-27 winner over Longmont. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Dakota Ridge (8-3) trailed Falcon 41-35 with only 1 minute, 47 seconds remaining in the 4A state football first-round contest on Nov. 9. Eagles sophomore Jeremy Lujan gave Dakota Ridge good field position with a 34-yard kickoff return to the Eagles’ 35. Thais proceeded to hit junior Nick Cohn with a 15-yard pass play to midfield. Two plays later, Thais connected with Cohn again for a 37-yard throw near the right sideline down to the Falcon 10 with 1:15 remaining.
Following a Falcon timeout to regroup, Thais ran a keeper play for no gain before completing a 7-yard pass to senior wideout Dillon DeLauro to the Falcon 3 yard line with 38 seconds left. Falcon called another timeout with third down approaching. Thais found DeLauro once again in the right flat with 34 seconds left to tie the game at 41-41.
All the hard work, game preparation, practices, scouting and watching tape came down to a play teams practice over and over again throughout the season — the point after touchdown. Barwick kicked it right down the middle for the game-winning point.
After the ensuing kickoff went through the end zone, Falcon quarterback Austin Worbington ran 10 yards on first down. Then he found senior standout Kalen Ballage for a 7-yard pass play with 21 seconds remaining. Worbington ran for 1 yard on the next snap before the Falcons turned the ball over on downs to the Eagles following a declined fourth-down illegal procedure penalty.
Dakota Ridge head coach Ron Woitalewicz expected, in preparing for this matchup, that the game would be a “slugfest.”
“I knew this game could go a lot like this. They average almost 40 points per game and we average 38, so I knew coming in that it was probably going to be a shootout,” Woitalewicz said.
Woitalewicz was all praises for Ballage, one of the top college prospects in the state.
“They have a kid (Ballage) that is the number one recruit in the state. A great player like him is going to make plays,” Woitalewicz said.
And make plays he did. Ballage scored four touchdowns in the first half and had 103 receiving yards to go with 85 rushing yards prior before intermission.
Dakota Ridge led 21-14 at the end of the first quarter. The Eagles scored first when senior running back Aaron Nelson scampered in from 21 yards out. Junior linebacker Josh Cohn then scooped up a fumble and ran 20 yards to put the Eagles ahead 14-0 with 8:58 remaining in the first quarter.
Falcon scored back-to-back touchdowns to tie it at 14-14 before Thais hit Nelson with a beautiful 27-yard touchdown pass.
The score was deadlocked at 28 at the half. Dakota Ridge’s lone second-quarter score came from senior wide receiver Blake Johnson, who hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass.
Thais ran in from 7 yards out to give the Eagles a 35-28 lead with 6:54 remaining in the third quarter before Falcon scored twice. The final touchdown came on a 1-yard Justin Barron run, but he missed the ensuing extra point to open the door for Dakota Ridge’s late-game heroics.
Nelson had 18 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles, while Thais connected on 17 of 30 pass attempts for 200 yards.
“I have seen him (Thais) play better,” Woitalewicz said. “He had a couple of bad passes, but he was clutch, and we needed him to be clutch. When we needed him to step up and be the hero, he was the hero right there at the end.”