COLORADO SPRINGS -- For a 28-point lead to disappear in a little over a quarter, just about everything has to go wrong.
For Monarch, it almost did.
The Coyotes initially appeared on the verge of a runaway Friday night at Vista Ridge, but had to withstand a valiant comeback from the home team before escaping with a 28-21 win in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
"It got me nervous, I'm not going to lie," said Monarch running back Ethan Marks, who rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns before departing in the second half with grueling cramps in each leg.
Monarch (11-1), which advanced to host top-seeded Pueblo West next weekend in the semifinals, led 28-0 as the third quarter wound down. But Vista Ridge struck with three touchdown passes from quarterback Brayden Stewart -- two were to Aaron Johnson -- in less than five minutes.
The Wolves (10-2) then stopped Monarch near midfield on 4th-and-4 and marched to the Coyotes 5-yard line in the waning moments. On third down, Logan Soole broke up a pass that Johnson nearly hauled in near the goal post.
On fourth down, Vista Ridge tried a trick play in which Noah Gabel, who hadn't handled the ball all game, tried an ill-fated option and was stuffed by the Monarch defense for a two-yard loss with just over a minute to play.
"I was a little nervous, but honestly I believe in my defense," Coyotes quarterback Cole Watson said. "They're the best defense in the state and they're going to get it done. They have our backs and we have theirs."
Watson was a bigger part of the offense than usual, going 6-for-7 for 105 yards. Much of the work was done out of play-action, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to a diving Connor Fitzgerald, who is better known as a defensive tackle than a tight end.
That one made it 28-0 in the third quarter.
"First catch ever," Fitzgerald said. "It's something we always practice, just in case. Our tight ends are always there. It was a regular counter-boot, and I guess our fullback and our other tight end were covered."
Monarch established immediate control in the first half, as Phil Bravo's Coyotes punched in several lengthy drives. Marks scored on runs of 2 and 38 and Soole (who finished with 107 on the ground) also added a 38-yarder.
Vista Ridge appeared to force Monarch into a three-and-out on the opening possession, but roughed punter Geoff Clary and Monarch ended up converting it into Marks' first TD.
Marks, who was walking gingerly afterwards, believes he'll be OK for next week.
"We'll just have to tighten it up if we want to advance to the finals," he said.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulWillis21
Monarch 28, Vista Ridge 21
At Vista Ridge H.S.
Monarch (11-1) 7 14 7 0 -- 28
Vista Ridge (10-2) 0 0 7 14 -- 21
Monarch -- Ethan Marks 2 run (Jamie Falloon kick).
Monarch -- Marks 38 run (Falloon kick).
Monarch -- Logan Soole 38 run (Falloon kick).
Monarch -- Connor Fitzgerald 14 pass from Cole Watson (Falloon kick).
Vista Ridge -- Kevin Benson 31 pass from Brayden Stewart (Noah Gabel kick).
Vista Ridge-- Aaron Johnson 27 pass from Stewart (Gabel kick).
Vista Ridge -- Johnson 13 pass from Stewart (Gabel kick).
First downs 18 15
Rushes-yards 61-256 25-76
Passing yards 105 194
Comp-Att-Int 6-7-0 19-31-0
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 6-40 5-47
RUSHING -- Monarch: Marks 28-149, Soole 19-107, Watson 9-25, Bubernak 2-2, Pape 1-1, Glazer 1-1, Clary 1-(-29); Vista Ridge: Cartagena 21-68, Lee 2-9, Benson 1-1, Gabel 1-(-2).
PASSING (comp-att-int-yards) -- Monarch: Watson 6-7-0, 105 yards; Vista Ridge: Stewart 19-31-0, 194 yards.
RECEIVING -- Monarch: Pape 3-52, Marks 1-31, Fitzgerald 1-13, Dorsey 1-9; Vista Ridge: Johnson 11-105, Perez 4-31, Benson 3-47, Serna 1-11.