LONGMONT — There should be no more questioning the ferociousness of the Mead football team.
After giving up more than 35 points a game coming into Friday's home contest against CHSAANow.com Class 3A No. 2-ranked Fort Morgan, the No. 9 Mavericks defense could have been easily taken for a unit that might end up dragging the team down in the long run.
To a man, they turned a corner in their final non-league game of the season, a test against a team considered one of the favorites for a state championship. For four full quarters, Mead had Fort Morgan in its grasp.
And that is what head coach Jason Klatt and his team will consider Saturday morning after falling by a slim 20-14 count at Mavericks Stadium — a dandy of a football game that lived up to a top-10 clash.
Fort Morgan was able to edge the Mavericks thanks in large part to a pair of 14-play drives in the second half and a couple of big fourth down stops in the fourth quarter with Mead still threatening to regain a lead.
It was tough, big-boy football at its best.
"We've been preparing for this type of game all season and we just had the mindset that we're going to go up against anybody at any time, anywhere," said two-way player Derek Edwards, who caught a 43-yard pass for a touchdown early and continued to fight on defense. "I feel like our defense grew a lot tonight and I feel like we're going to build off this."
"We're just trying to get better every day and our defense really has improved so much already, and we stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in 3A," said Klatt, the fifth-year coach whose team will begin Tri-Valley play next week. "We fought with them to the end, and I'm really proud of them for that."
The Mavericks (3-2) gave Fort Morgan (5-0) its first deficit of the season and took a 7-6 lead into halftime — though Mead could have had a larger lead were it not for a holding call that negated a Nathan Mackey touchdown run late in the second quarter.
Each team possessed the ball just one time in the third quarter, matching 14-play marches that both resulted in touchdowns. For Mead, it was a highly improbable 34-yard toss to Ryan Lavachny — a perfect throw on 4th-and-19 — that gave MHS a 14-12 lead with 7 minutes, 43 seconds to go in the fourth quarter.
Fort Morgan converted two short fourth down plays on its next possession, capping a 71-yard drive with Dalyn Knapp's 1-yard run at the 4:57 mark of the final stanza.
The ball changed hands four times over those final 5 minutes, but Mead was stopped twice on fourth-down plays on each of their attempts at a game-winning drive.
Mead outgained Fort Morgan 340-259, and Riley Glynn was 10-of-13 passing for 143 yards in a brilliant effort. Mackey still ended up with 116 yards rushing while Gino Musick and Tyler Keys combined for 84.
But all the talk was about the defense after this one.
"We got really excited after the win against Longmont and were ready to just see what we could do against another good team," Edwards said. "This one is going to light a fire under us and make us that much more hungry to take our team to the next level."
Fort Morgan 20, Mead 14
At Mavericks StadiumFort Morgan (5-0) 0 6 6 8 — 20
Mead — Derek Edwards 43 pass from Riley Glynn (Taylor Kamigaki kick).
Fort Morgan — Austin Breidenbach 30 run (pass failed).
Fort Morgan — Tate Kembel 4 run (pass failed).
Mead — Ryan Lavachny 34 pass from Glynn (Kamigaki kick). Fort Morgan — Dalyn Knapp 1 run (Trey McBride pass from Knapp).
RUSHING — Fort Morgan: Tate Kembel 29-140, Austin Briedenbach 9-84, George Perea 4-30, Dalyn Knapp 5-4. Mead: Nathan Mackey 20-116, Gino Musick 11-49, Tyler Keys 7-35, Riley Glynn 3-(minus-2), Dom Esters 2-(minus-1).
PASSING — Fort Morgan: Knapp 1-4-0-5. Mead: Glynn 10-13-0-143.
RECEIVING — Fort Morgan: Kembel 1-5. Mead: Ryan Lavachny 3-48, Mackey 3-24, Esters 2-25, Derek Edwards 1-43, Musick 1-3.