LAFAYETTE -- The problem with football games like the one Monarch hosted on Saturday is that they can turn into a contest of musical chairs, and just one or two miscues can leave a team without a chair when the final buzzer sounds.
The Coyotes found that out in their 4A state playoff opener at Spangenberg Field. In a game which featured eight grind-it-out touchdown drives of at least 60 yards, there weren't a high number of possessions from which to recover from mistakes.
Tenth-seeded Fruita Monument, which before this year hadn't had a winning season since 2004, took advantage of a key 2-point conversion, and forced one turnover and committed none to oust seventh-seeded Monarch from the postseason 36-28 on Saturday.
The two-time 4A state champions (2002 and '12) finished the season 7-4 a year after going 2-8 to complete a two-year stint in Class 5A.
"I think we played hard, but we were just a couple of plays away," said MHS senior Zach Bastres, who put up big numbers in his high school finale, racking up 169 yards and three touchdowns on 31 rushes, plus 64 yards on five receptions. "We had a couple of mental errors — nothing too big. I think we should have come out here and won though. I think they were a beatable team."
In a rare high school football game that featured four players who have each rushed for at least 1,000 yards this year, the Wildcats fended off the Coyotes, who were making their 17th playoff appearance in the last 18 years.
With 8:28 left in the contest, Monarch cut the deficit to 29-28 on a 6-yard TD run and a 2-point conversion by Bastres, who earlier had kept the drive alive by converting on a fourth-and-4 with a 9-yard rush. The score gave the Coyotes their fourth TD in the first five times they had the ball.
The MHS defense then forced Fruita to punt for just the second time in the game. But Monarch, which had moved the ball consistently all day, couldn't get anything going in the final five minutes. The Coyotes got one first down on their first possession down the stretch, but a fumble (which they recovered) cost them and they turned the ball over on downs deep in their own territory with a little more than two minutes left.
Braeden Graham, who rushed for 126 yards on Saturday, subsequently scored his second TD to make put Fruita up 36-28.
Monarch had one last shot at a comeback, but its final-minute drive stalled at the Fruita 46-yard line.
"Those are two really good offenses that run the ball and run it well," Fruita coach Todd Casebier said. "It came down to our defense getting stops (late in the game). We punted the ball away with five minutes left and put it on our defense. They (essentially) created a score and gave us some breathing room by stopping them. It's all about our defense getting it done in the fourth quarter."
A 2-point conversion by Fruita at the end of first half proved to be very problematic for Monarch and affected the game in many ways. After Kyle Fineran scored on an end-around from 19 yards with 35.5 seconds left before intermission, the Coyotes jumped offsides on the extra-point attempt, and the Wildcats took advantage of the ball being moved to the 1 1/2-yard line to score two — again by Fineran — and go up 15-14.
Monarch would trail the rest of the game. The Coyotes could have tied it in the third, but QB Stone MacIntyre couldn't make it into the end zone on a 2-point attempt following an MHS score in the third quarter.
"That changes the language (of the game), it really does," said Phil Bravo, who wrapped up his 19th season as Monarch coach. "You're speaking a different scoring language from that point forward."
Added Casebier: "We wanted to get (Monarch) out of whack, and that one point was huge the rest of the game. That's how you win in November and fortunately we were able to do it."
Monarch finished the game with more yards offensively than Fruita (411-372). The two teams combined for 540 yards rushing, with FMHS gaining 347 and the Coyotes 293.
The Wildcats scored TDs on five of their seven possessions on Saturday.
Fruita, which improved to 7-4 with its fifth straight win, will host a playoff game next weekend for the first time since 2003, as second-seeded Chatfield (10-1) pays a visit to the Grand Junction area.
As for Monarch, Saturday marked a return to the playoffs after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 1998.
"You lose your seniors and it's tough," said Bravo, whose team won the Northern League title. "These guys really helped rebuild our program. We had a two-year hiatus (going 6-14 in two seasons in 5A) and last year missing the playoffs was an anomaly. These guys helped thrust us into state competitiveness where we think we should be."
Fruita Monument 36, Monarch 28
At Spangenberg FieldFruita Monument 7 8 14 7 — 36
Monarch 7 7 6 8 — 28
Monarch — Stone MacIntyre 2 run (Trevor Elser kick). Fruita Monument — Zach Rush 3 run (Marcus Mosnes kick).
Monarch — Zach Bastres 9 run (Elser kick). Fruita Monument — Kyle Fineran 19 run (Fineran run).
Fruita Monument — Daniel VanHoose 44 run (Mosnes kick). Monarch — Bastres 3 run (run fail). Fruita Monument — Braeden Graham 5 run (Mosnes kick).
Monarch — Bastres 6 run (Bastres run). Fruita Monument — Graham 10 run (Mosnes kick).
RUSHING — Fruita Monument: Graham 22-126, Triplett 26-124, VanHoose 1-44, Fineran 4-38, Rush 6-13, Gisner 1-2. Monarch: Bastres 31-169, Bradfield 10-46, Snyder 10-41, MacIntyre 10-33, Cole 1-4.
PASSING — Fruita Monument: Rush 3-6-0-25. Monarch: MacIntyre 9-18-0-118.
RECEIVING — Fruita Monument: Fineran 2-14, Newland 1-11. Monarch: Bastres 5-64, Hall 3-36, Ryterski 1-18.