DENVER -- Behind the backdrop of a sun-spangled, unseasonably warm December Saturday, Monarch's championship ambitions came down to one play.
If the Coyotes could convert a fourth-and-1 in the waning moments at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Class 4A title trophy was theirs to hoist.
Everyone, including opposing Denver South, knew what was coming. It made no difference, as running back Ethan Marks busted through the line for a 6-yard gain. A few kneel-downs later, Monarch celebrated with its second ever state title with a gritty 17-14 win on the Denver Broncos' home turf.
"I'm speechless; I'm trying to hold back tears," Monarch linebacker Colin Hart said. "What a great way to go out as a senior."
The Coyotes (13-1), who won it all in 2002 and lost the title game in 2007, retooled after Denver South's dominant opening drive to assert their signature stamp on the game. That meant a lot of running -- Marks rushed for 188 yards and sophomore Logan Soole for 112 -- and a bruising defense that forced three Rebels turnovers.
After Denver South (12-2) trimmed Monarch's lead to three points with 3:04 remaining on a 13-yard touchdown run by Trevonte Tasco, Marks' clinching first down allowed Coyotes' plentiful contingent of fans in the east stands to unabashedly celebrate.
"When he got that, everything we've done all year was worth it," Monarch fullback Braden Pape said. "I'm tingling still just thinking about it."
Said Marks: "Getting across that line was the only thing that mattered. And holding onto the ball, too. I came out and I was pumped."
Monarch might have lacked the star power of the Rebels, whose running backs Pete Williams (131 yards) and the wrecking-ball-like Tasco (130) each chewed up field position in sizable chunks.
But the Coyotes' disciplined, team-oriented play eventually wore down Denver South on both sides of the ball.
"We've taught them well to play second-fiddle when it comes to the attention, but when it comes down to it, to play really hard," said Monarch coach Phil Bravo, whose eyes glistened as he hoisted the championship hardware. "The integrity of our athletes really showed up today."
Denver South marched to a quick touchdown to begin the game, culminating a 9-play, seemingly effortless 82-yard drive with quarterback Malik Tollerson's 1-yard touchdown run.
Monarch adjusted, countering the Rebels' attack with an interception from Jaylen Alexander and fumble recoveries by Soole and John Pham before the half ended.
"We just relaxed," said Coyotes linebacker Peter Mitchell, who was credited with eight tackles and a forced fumble. "We came out a little nervous with the big stadium and the lights and everything. Then we settled down and just made plays."
Monarch went to the locker room leading 14-7, compliments of a 25-yard TD run by Soole and 3-yard run by Marks with 33 seconds before the half.
With the momentum firmly shifted, the Coyotes kept it going after intermission. They drove for a 41-yard field goal by Jamie Falloon on the opening possession of the second half to make it 17-7. Soole had 34-yard run on the drive.
"They were a real big team, and we knew we had to get low to have any chance to push them," Soole said. "Our line did a great job of that. Ethan absolutely ran great, our fullbacks were kicking out real nice and there were holes for us to get through."
Controversy ensued late in the third quarter, when Tasco appeared to cross the goal line for a South touchdown but was ruled down at the 1. The Rebels also appeared to get away with one later in the half. A Monarch punt appeared to be touched South player and recovered by Monarch, but South was awarded possession and drove for Tasco's TD.
"I have to give Denver South credit because they were a tough team," Monarch cornerback Geoff Clary said. "But we did it!"
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MONARCH 17, DENVER SOUTH 14
At Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Monarch (13-1) 7 7 3 0 -- 17
Denver South (12-2) 7 0 0 7 -- 14
Denver South -- Malik Tollerson 1 run (Karim Soumah kick).
Monarch -- Logan Soole 25 run (Jamie Falloon kick).
Monarch -- Ethan Marks 3 run (Falloon kick).
Monarch Falloon 41 FG.
Denver South -- Trevonte Tasco 13 run (Soumah kick).
First downs 20 18
Rushes-yards 65-336 39-304
Passing yards 0 74
Comp-Att-Int 0-2-1 6-13-1
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-2
Penalties-Yards 1-10 9-78
RUSHING -- Monarch: Marks 40-188, Soole 11-112, Pape 7-31, Glazer 3-7, Watson 4-(-2); Denver South: Williams 18-131, Tasco 12-130, Tollerson 5-30, Z. Lindsay 4-13.
PASSING (comp-att-int-yards) -- Monarch: Watson 0-1-1, 0 yards, Soole 0-1-0-0; Denver South: Tollerson 6-13-1, 74 yards.
RECEIVING -- Monarch: None; Denver South: Moore 3-41, Williams 1-16, Chambers 1-13, Mosley 1-4.