LONGMONT — Despite playing the underdog in nearly every game over the past six seasons and certainly every game in the 2016 postseason, the Mead football team is still alive.
Not just alive, but the Mavericks are in the Final Four.
Hosting Palisade in the Class 3A quarterfinals at home on Saturday afternoon, the Mavericks upset a higher seed for the second time in two weeks, emerging victorious from a back-and-forth contest 44-40. Having not only advanced further than ever before, the bracket-busting Mavericks have also won the honor of hosting two-time defending champion Pueblo East at their place next week.
"We put in a lot of work and each position did their own job, and they're job only," Mavericks linebacker Brandon Langridge said. "We came out on top in the end and all the credit goes to our coaches. We're here for the challenge. We're not going to step down. We're going to invite them (Pueblo East) over here and we're going to give them all they can handle."
Combined, the 11th-seeded Mavericks (9-3) and third-seeded Bulldogs (10-2) offenses had scored 40 or more points in 14 out of 22 games prior to the state quarterfinals. So Saturday's shootout was no surprise. The first four drives of the game resulted in touchdowns.
Coming off the new school's first playoff win, a 28-24 victory over No. 6 Palmer Ridge in the first round, the Mavericks trailed only briefly in the first half. Junior quarterback Riley Glynn hit tailback Gino Musick on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 16.6 seconds left in the second quarter to give them a 28-21 halftime lead.
"We stepped up and made huge plays, especially at the end," said Glynn, who passed for 234 yards and three touchdowns. "Palisade is the No. 3 seed and a great team but we had confidence."
With his team trailing by 17 points at the end of the third quarter, Palisade quarterback P.D. Riddle led his team on a comeback and the Bulldogs took a 40-38 lead with 4:07 left in the game. The Mavericks, however, responded with a four-play drive that ended with wide receiver Ryan Lavanchy catching a screen pass and taking it 56 yards for the go-ahead score with 2:44 remaining.
On fourth-and-11 at the Mead 34-yard line, Langridge hit Riddle as he threw a desperate pass and Mavericks linebacker Evan Hansen intercepted the ball to clinch the win.
"That screen play to Ryan, we just put that in this week," Glynn said. "He took it all the way and it was pretty awesome. We got the lead back and once we sent our defense back out there, I knew they would do what it takes to win the game."
Even while playing through a quadriceps injury, Langridge also recovered a fumble, blocked an extra point and made a crucial sack that came with the Bulldogs driving in the final two minutes and set up the long-distance fourth down. The defense forced five fumbles and recovered three of them.
"Brandon is one of our senior leaders and he has been huge for us all year. Our kids are all like him, resilient, mentally tough and they've come so far," Mavericks head coach Jason Klatt said. "We have great coaches and it takes a lot of people and a collective effort to do something like this. It was a fun atmosphere today and one game I'll never forget."
Mead 44, Palisade 40
At Mead H.S.Palisade 14 7 0 19 — 40
Mead 14 14 10 6 — 44
Mead — Nathan Mackey 2 run (Taylor Kamigaki kick). Palisade — Stephen Leonard 32 pass from P.D. Riddle (Isaac Maestas kick). Mead — Gino Musick 1 run (Kamigaki kick). Palisade — Prescott Price 1 run (Maestas kick).
Palisade — Austin Bernal 34 run (Maestas kick). Mead — Glynn 11 run (kick missed). Mead — Musick 28 pass from Glynn (Mackey run).
Mead — Derek Edwards 5 pass from Glynn (Kamigaki kick). Mead — Kamigaki 30 field goal.
Palisade — Bernal 26 pass from Riddle (Maestas kick). Palisade — Pratt 15 pass from Riddle (kick blocked). Mead — Ryan Lavanchy 56 pass from Glynn (run short).
RUSHING — Palisade: Tanner Pratt 18-124, P.D. Riddle 8-38, Austin Bernal 9-83, Prescott Price 3-29, Jason Bruce 5-16. Mead: Nathan Mackey 23-130, Gino Musick 17-64, Riley Glynn 10-40, Tyler Keys 1-7.
PASSING — Palisade: P.D. Riddle 11-15-1-194. Mead: Riley Glynn 13-21-0-234.
RECEIVING — Palisade: Tanner Pratt 3-66, Austin Bernal 3-64, Stephen Leonard 1-32, Prescott Price 2-13, Jason Bruce 1-11, Daniel McLean 1-8. Mead: Derek Edwards 3-56, Ryan Lavanchy 1-56, Dino Musick 2-55, Dom Esters 2-30, Nathan Mackey 4-21, CJ Shellenberger 1-16.