DENVER — Vincent Smith hopes that there are plenty more wins to come during his coaching career at Boulder High, but it's doubtful any will be as memorable as the one the Panthers picked up Friday afternoon at All City Stadium.
Smith's Panthers experienced the gamut of emotions during the final three-and-a-half minutes of play before eventually pulling out a thrilling 27-25 victory over Denver South on the game's final play.
"That was crazy," said senior linebacker Cole Peterson, who spearheaded an inspired effort by the Boulder defense. "That was probably one of the funnest games I've ever played in."
The ending is almost impossible to believe without seeing it. Boulder, which was coming off a 1-9 season in Smith's first year with the club, dominated early, only to see the Rebels, who entered the year ranked No. 9 in Class 4A, storm back to take the lead behind their standout junior wide receiver Martin Jiple.
After finding themselves behind for the first time all afternoon, the Panthers retook the lead at 21-19 following a clutch 40-yard field goal from Sam Lowery with 3:33 to play.
That set the stage for an impressive drive by Denver South, who went undefeated last year until the state quarterfinals. Backup quarterback Kwesi Singleton led the Rebels on a 10-play, 82-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Zian Lusero with 12.5 seconds left that put Boulder down 25-21.
And then the ensuing kick hit the ground and bounced in front of Patrick Fletcher at the Panthers' 18-yard line.
Fletcher, who had been the workhorse for Boulder all day and had already accumulated 193 yards on the ground, scooped up the ball and sped up the center of the field like a shot. Somehow, the Rebels kick coverage parted like the Red Sea and Fletcher found open field in front of him.
He looked like he'd take it all the way to the end zone, only to be caught from behind by Denver South's Ibro Soumah at the 3-yard line with 2.3 seconds remaining.
"There was 12 seconds left and I wanted to score and I wanted to get that 'W' because I knew it would change the program and change the environment," Fletcher said. "I thought I was faster than I was. I ate a little too much food this fall, this summer."
Then, with the contest on the line, sophomore quarterback Drew Maier suggested the game-winning call to Smith — a shovel-pass to Shane Provost. Denver South's defenders bought Maier's play fake and closed in on him, and he was able to slip the ball to Provost, who went into the end zone standing up.
"I can't take credit for it," Smith said. "It's one of my favorite plays but I'm very cautious and reserved as to when I run it. That was actually Drew's call.
"With two seconds left, there is no right call. The only right call is the one that works and the one that doesn't work is the wrong call. Drew called that, and for a sophomore that was a mature thing, because he was very convincing."
The win was also convincing that this isn't the same Boulder team that was often overmatched last season. The Panthers looked big up front, have a running back that can wear teams out in Fletcher, and a defense that did a good job keeping the explosive Rebels in check for most of the game.
Led by Peterson, Jack Braymiller and Joe Colucci, Boulder had contained Denver South for much of the first half. But then the Rebels started throwing jump balls to Jiple, and he was able to beat the Panthers defensive backs to the tune of 146 yards and two scores on six receptions.
"We knew (Jiple) was an athlete over there," Smith said. " We've got to make coverage adjustments and fix some things that we did today that we won't do a whole lot of moving forward."
And moving forward, Boulder feels like it can play with anybody, and the Panthers will be a team to be reckoned with this season.
"That's the big difference, I think, from last year," Peterson said. "Last year they score that (late) touchdown, who knows who blocks on that kick return team? But there's always a way."
John Rosa: 303-473-1315, firstname.lastname@example.org
Boulder 27, Denver South 25
At All City StadiumBoulder (1-0)16209—27
Denver South (0-1)06613—25
Boulder — Patrick Fletcher 4 run (Fletcher run), 9:21. Boulder — Ryan Travis 19 run (Fletcher run), 1:41.
Denver South — Quayshawn Dubose 36 run (run fail), 4:39. Boulder — Safety, snap out of end zone.
Denver South — Martin Jiple 20 pass from Brandon Martin (kick fail), 9:12.
Denver South — Jiple 27 pass from Kwesi Singleton (Owen Abraham kick), 7:33. Boulder — Sam Lowery 40 yard field goal, 3:33. Denver South — Zian Lusero 11 pass from Singleton (pass fail), 0:12. Boulder — Shane Provost 3 pass from Drew Maier (no attempts), 0:00.
RUSHING — Boulder: Fletcher 29-193, Travis 7-49, Peterson 3-7, W. Maier 2-6, Escobar 2-4, Feenstra 1-1, D. Maier 2-(minus) 14. Denver South: Dubose 3-74, Bryant 5-27, Griffin 6-27, Martin 14-12, Singleton 1-7, El-Amin 1-5, Campbell 1-(minus) 4.
PASSING — Boulder: D. Maier 5-13-1-71. Denver South: Martin 5-11-2-115, Singleton 6-11-0-98
RECEIVING — Boulder: Provost 4-20, W. Maier 1-51. Denver South: Jiple 6-146, Lusero 2-24, Griffin 2-16, El-Amin 1-27.