LONGMONT -- It was an effort that pretty much encapsulated Josh Quiroz's rise from a late-bloomer coming off a debilitating injury to an essential cog of the Silver Creek offense.
On Saturday, as the Raptors sought a finishing touch during their Class 3A state semifinal battle against Conifer, Quiroz rose to the occasion. Throughout the first three quarters Quiroz found little traction against the Lobos' defense, gutting his way for a yard or two here and there.
Yet with the game on the line Quiroz's perseverance, a trait that has marked his quick ascension into the featured running back position in Silver Creek's offense, shined through. Quiroz and the rest of the Raptors will aim for a similar effort when they make their second consecutive appearance in the Class 3A state title game on Saturday against top-seeded Rifle at Legacy Stadium in southeast Aurora.
"I didn't play football until eighth grade, and the first time I came out I didn't really know what I was doing," Quiroz said. "They put me at receiver but I really didn't know how to run routes. They put me at running back and I guess I did good stuff there. I just loved it. I loved hitting people and getting the ball and scoring touchdowns.
"My line is really good and I'm with them a lot. We did OK that (Conifer) game. When we're clicking we can rack up a lot of yards, but we got it together finally at the end."
Through three quarters against Conifer, Quiroz managed just 58 yards on 20 carries as both teams suffered through sloppy first-half turnovers while battling for the advantage in the field position war. However, once Silver Creek regained possession at the outset of the fourth quarter, Quiroz and his offensive linemen finally wore down the Conifer defense.
After a key 18-yard reception on third down by Brock Ricks gave the Raptors a first-down near midfield, Quiroz finally exploited a hole in the Lobos defense for a 46-yard gain. On first-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Quiroz spun off a Conifer tackler to score a touchdown that put the finishing touches on Silver Creek's 24-7 victory.
Quiroz compiled 70 yards on just five carries in the fourth quarter.
"Something that Josh brings in the fourth quarter is that he's as tough a running back as I've had," Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. "You get tired and start (tackling) high, he's going to make you pay for it. He's a blend of a power back and a slasher. He's going to punish you, and if you're out of position he's going to make you miss. He's a tough kid to bring down."
Like many of Quiroz's classmates in Silver Creek's junior class, the Raptors' running back assumed his position this season in place of a decorated performer from last year's state runner-up squad. In Quiroz's case, that was former running back Ian McNabb, who provided a consistent rushing counterpoint to the prolific passing attack powered by since-graduated quarterback Austin Apodaca.
While Quiroz certainly would not have supplanted McNabb as the Raptors' starter last year, Apodaca said Quiroz likely would have provided a more significant contribution if not for a hip injury he suffered in the first JV game of the season. After making just four rushing attempts for the varsity last year, Quiroz has basically duplicated McNabb's rushing contributions this season and will take an average of 100.3 yards a game into Saturday's title game.
"I don't think a single coach on our staff can take credit for Josh, because Josh in eighth grade had 'it,'" Apodaca said. "He had so much naturalness to his ability to run, it was impressive to watch. He had to get used to the plays as a freshman and he was hurt last year, but you knew it was there."
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