By Craig Harper
For the Courier
ARVADA — Encouraged.
No verb more aptly describes the Littleton football team’s outlook following the first game of the Kurt Krantz era. The scoreboard Aug. 23 at the North Area Athletic Complex displayed a 27-7 victory for Standley Lake, but It didn’t pinpoint the host Gators’ two long scoring passes in the fourth quarter of an otherwise tight battle. And to those in the know, it reflected positive advancement for a program that won five games the previous three years and allowed 41 points per game in 2012.
“I feel like we played more as a team today,” said Nick McNamee, Littleton’s senior quarterback. “Over the last three years, our confidence wasn’t there. But the attitude was a lot better than last year, for sure.”
After a sluggish start in which they fell behind 14-0 with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the first half against the bulk of a Standley Lake squad that nearly upset runner-up Denver South in the 4A playoffs, the Lions caught fire on offense at the end of the half and slowed down the Gators’ potent offense in the second half, with the exception of the two backbreaking passes.
Held to seven yards on nine plays on its first three possessions, Littleton struck for 65 yards on three consecutive plays following the Gators’ second score. But the Lions couldn’t overcome a holding penalty from the 21-yard line, and a long field-goal try fell short.
But the stimulus persisted as the Lions took the second-half kickoff and drove 70 yards, capped by McNamee’s 11-yard scoring toss to tight end Austin Bieber, a converted wide receiver.
The Lions twice positioned themselves for potential tying scores but couldn’t capitalize. A pair of major penalties on the Gator defense gave Littleton a first down at the Standley Lake 37, but the Gators recovered the second of back-to-back fumbled snap exchanges. Then, after driving to face third-and-3 from the Gator 30, the Lions turned the ball over on downs early in the fourth quarter.
Three plays later, Jacob Naranjo and Connor Durant teamed for their second touchdown, a 60-yard, catch-and-run, aided by a missed tackle at the Lions 45. Just over 3 minutes later, Matt Fujinami turned a crossing pass from Naranjo into a 78-yard score.
“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Krantz said of turning around the LHS program.