LONGMONT — The Mead-Pueblo East football game had all the makings of a classic finish on Saturday afternoon.
Then, with nothing more than a pooch kick and a oblong-shaped pinball bouncing around the Mavericks Stadium turf untouched — Mead's hopes of a first-ever championship game appearance in any sport quickly slipped away.
A remarkable season for the Mavericks — one that saw many firsts for the school regardless — ended at the hands of the two-time defending Class 3A champion Eagles 28-21 after Pueblo East scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1 minute, 49 seconds left in the game and then never allowed the dangerous Mead offense back on the field by recovering the ensuing kickoff.
Though sour when the zeroes on the time clock signaled the Mavericks would end the season 9-4, the run to the state semifinals was unforgettable for the team and its community. They played eight of the 15 other playoff teams, knocked off city rival Longmont and ousted the No. 3 and No. 6 teams on the way to an all-out battle against the Eagles.
"Coach (Jason) Klatt always preaches about just how fast the season goes by, and it really felt like (season-opening opponent) Lewis-Palmer was like two days ago," said junior tailback Nathan Mackey. "You have to cherish everything, and we made history for the school. It was good to be a part of, and we set a cornerstone for our expectations from here on."
"It was great to have the year we had this year," added senior Gino Musick, who missed his junior season with an injury. "After Week 1, I couldn't have told you we'd be here but we bonded as a team and played for each other. That's what got us here."
The No. 11-seeded Mavericks were every bit the handful the Eagles could have expected. After taking a 21-7 third quarter lead that seemed like Pueblo East (12-1) could easily hold on to with their style of play, Mead stormed back with fury.
A balanced Mead drive (seven rushes, five passes) that spilled over into the fourth quarter was cashed in as senior quarterback Riley Glynn hit Dom Esters for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 9:44 left. After forcing the Eagles to punt for the first time all game — two other Eagles drives ended with missed field goals — Glynn went deep to Esters again, this time a 75-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 21-21 with 5:09 left.
All the momentum was on the side of the black and white-clad hosts.
"We knew before they were bringing pressure, so we knew if we just held them for two seconds that play was going to work," Musick said. "It was great when it happened."
But the Mavericks left the door open for Pueblo East by allowing a good kickoff return from Dusty Biggers to set the Eagles up at the Mead 42. Eight plays later — five yards on average if you do the math — sophomore quarterback Luc Andrada had his third rushing touchdown of the game to give PEHS a 28-21 lead.
With 1:49 left and a time out, Mead still had a great chance to drive the field. But Pueblo East's kickoff only flew to about the 20-yard line, took a bounce away from the oncoming Mead deep back and was recovered by the Eagles.
Pueblo East ran 66 plays for 392 yards, with tailback Bryson Torres tallying 176 yards on 37 carries with a touchdown. Andrada had scoring runs of 1, 5 and 5 yards.
Mead ran 48 plays for 341 yards — with Glynn passing for three touchdowns for the third straight playoff game. He also went 14-for-15 in the contest for 169 yards.
"The defense stepped up huge and they gave us opportunities, good field position," Mackey said. "We just couldn't get enough points on the board."
"On that kickoff, we had something set up for the return and we just had them too deep, and you know, that's on me really," Klatt said. "We just couldn't come up and catch the ball.
"We fought like mad. I thought our defense hung in there great, and it just comes down to a couple missed opportunities. I'll tell you what, it's a great day to be a Mead Maverick."
Pueblo East 28, Mead 21
At Mead HSPueblo East (12-1) 7 7 7 7 — 28
Mead (9-4) 7 0 0 14 — 21
Pueblo East — Bryson Torres 6 run (Sebastian Benavidez kick). Mead — Nathan Mackey 8 pass from Riley Glynn (Taylor Kamigaki kick).
Pueblo East — Luc Andrada 1 run (Benavidez kick).
Pueblo East — Andrada 5 run (Tory Koshak kick).
Mead — Dom Esters 11 pass from Glynn (Kamigaki kick). Mead — Esters 75 pass from Glynn (Kamigaki kick). Pueblo East — Andrada 5 run (Koshak kick).
RUSHING — Pueblo East: Bryson Torres 37-176, Luc Andrada 10-85, Josh Tellez 4-15, Luke Padula 1-16, Dusty Biggers 1-17. Mead: Gino Musick 11-87, Nathan Mackey 13-57, Riley Glynn 5-5, Derek Edwards 1-9, Tyler Keys 3-14.
PASSING — Pueblo East: Andrada 7-13-2-83. Mead: Glynn 14-15-0-169.
RECEIVING — Pueblo East: Padula 5-52, John Orona 1-9, Marcus Winston 1-22. Mead: Dom Esters 5-106, Mackey 5-20, Musick 3-33, Edwards 1-10.