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Upset bid comes up short

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Eagles push unbeaten Farmers to the brink

By Dan Johnson

LAKEWOOD — The Rodney Dangerfield of the Class 4A state football playoffs finally got its respect.

Unfortunately for Dakota Ridge, a win didn’t accompany it.

The No. 14 Eagles gave the No. 2 Farmers of Wheat Ridge all they could handle Nov. 22 at Jefferson County Stadium, but ultimately fell short 21-16 in a hard-fought game.

“People definitely should respect us now and know that we’re a good football team,” senior wide receiver Austin Rodriguez said. “We were a little under-looked all year but we proved we were one of the best teams in the state getting to the state semifinals.”

They came awfully close to going a step farther.

After John Thorne sacked Wheat Ridge quarterback Charlie Land in the end zone for a safety with 1 minute, 47 seconds to play, the Eagles (9-4) received the ball back following the free kick and were just 48 yards away from the go-ahead score.

Following a 3-yard run by Andrew Melton, the Eagles went to the air on their next three plays. All three passes from sophomore quarterback Bolton Howes were incomplete, including a fourth-and-seven attempt from the Wheat Ridge 45 that turned the ball over on downs to the Farmers, who kneeled on the ball to drain the final minute off the clock.

“We were in our normal two-minute offense. We just didn’t execute,” said Rodriguez, who was held to two catches for 48 yards. “I’m usually not a read on that (fourth-down) play. The other three receivers on the play were covered and I was sitting open in the middle of the field.”

The knock on the Eagles all season had been their less than stellar record against quality opponents. In their regular season encounter with the Farmers, the Eagles were blown off the field in a 34-7 defeat. Early on Nov. 22, it appeared things were headed that way again as all-state running back Parker Orms scored touchdowns on the Farmers’ opening two drives and eclipsed the 100-yard mark early in the second quarter.

Down 14-0, the Eagles desperately needed a big play to get back in the game. On fourth-and-five from the Wheat Ridge 30, they got it as Howes (just a sophomore) threw a shovel pass to David Judd, who took the ball and ran all the way into the end zone for a touchdown, trimming the Dakota Ridge deficit in half with 7:39 to play in the second quarter.

Three plays later, the game was tied as defensive back Justin Milhollan leveled Land and stripped him of the ball. Steve Martinez scooped up the loose ball and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown.

“It’s not often that our defense scores more points than our offense,” Dakota Ridge coach Ron Woitalewicz said. “Our coaching staff on that side of the ball did a great job and our kids went out there and kept giving us a chance to win.”

While Orms got off to a fast start – he ripped off a 56-yard run to open the game and had 121 yards by halftime – the Eagles did a good job of containing him in the second half.

Orms did finish with 211 yards on 39 carries and three touchdowns, but the Dakota Ridge defense made him earn every yard, and even dropped him for negative yards, or no yards like they did on a crucial fourth-and-one from its own 5-yard line midway through the third quarter.

Dakota Ridge had a good drive stall out early in the fourth quarter when Howes’ pass on fourth-and-two from the Wheat Ridge 32-yard line was batted down by Eric Shannon.

Orms touched the ball seven times on the Farmers’ ensuing drive, and capped off the 68-yard possession with a 9-yard touchdown run that put the Farmers up 21-14 with 6:45 to play.

The Eagles looked to quickly even the score when they connected on a 42-yard pass to Rodriguez out of the popular “Wildcat” formation. Melton (123 yards on 20 carries) took the snap, pitched the ball to Howes who was running a reverse, and Howes threw a perfect strike to Rodriguez, who was forced out-of-bounds at the Wheat Ridge 28.

Dakota Ridge got down to the Wheat Ridge 6-yard line but would get no closer and for the second time in the quarter, turned the ball over on downs with 2:41 left.

Thorne’s safety gave Dakota Ridge another opportunity, but again, the offense failed to register a first down.

“We had a chance to win it at the end,” Woitalewicz said. “No one had played (Wheat Ridge) that close, that tough, all year long. I couldn’t be more proud of our kids. They competed for 48 minutes, did everything they could to win, we just couldn’t get a couple of breaks to go our way.”

Wheat Ridge    7-7-0-7—21

Dakota Ridge    0-14-0-2—16

First quarter

WR—Orms 8 run (Matt Shultz kick), 9:14

Second quarter

WR—Orms 6 run (Shultz kick), 11:11

DR—Judd 30 pass from Howes (Michael Moores kick), 7:39

DR—Martinez 15 fumble return (Moores kick), 6:36

Fourth quarter

WR—Orms 9 run (Shultz kick), 6:45

DR—Safety, 1:47.