NEDERLAND — When the ball left the Recht Field turf on the opening kickoff Friday night, Nederland's Beth Buglione made history as the first female head football coach in the state of Colorado.
Though her Panthers suited up just nine players for the eight-man contest and lost 44-13 to the Justice Phoenix, and while Buglione preferred that the attention be focused on her players' season-opening effort, the first-year coach couldn't escape the gravity surrounding the historic moment.
"It's a historic first and it's also my first time as a head coach, period," Buglione said. "That moment wasn't lost on me. Right as the ball was getting kicked, my assistant coach goes, 'OK, coach. That's history right there. I'm just so grateful to be in this position and to be able to work with these amazing kids. Right now, my heart is just more grateful than anything.
"I challenge any team in the country to do what these kids did tonight, playing ironman football. They didn't complain. I had a few kids who got nicked up but they stayed in there and gutted it out and I'm super proud of them for that."
The Panthers (0-2) were forced to forfeit their first game of the season because they did not have enough players who had completed the requisite number of practices to be eligible for competition. With just enough teammates to take the field against the Phoenix (1-0) on Friday, junior Taylor Hoffman took it upon himself to keep his team in the game as long as he could.
Leading his team in receiving, rushing, and on defense, Hoffman totaled 128 yards from scrimmage and had three interceptions. He scored both his team's touchdowns, catching a 14-yard score from quarterback Damon Vigil in the second quarter and returning his second interception of the game 56 yards for a touchdown two drives later.
"It wasn't too bad because our coach prepared us really well for the game," Hoffman said. "She has really good tactics and we kind of felt like we were in control for some parts. We kind of started slipping when we lost a good player in Rain (Larrabee) and we had to play with seven on the field for part of the third quarter. But we never quit."
Phoenix quarterback Enrique Romero, who head coach Nels Thoreson said had never thrown a pass until this summer, tossed four touchdown passes in the first half to lead Justice to a 30-13 halftime advantage. The senior completed 11 of his 18 pass attempts for 193 yards to help his team avenge a 20-18 loss to Nederland from last season.
"It was a rush, man," Romero said. "It was the first game I ever played as a quarterback. I felt like I did pretty good but I know I can do better. I'm just so proud of the effort we put in today and we have a good shot at the playoffs, but we still have work to do as a team."
Justin Hunyadi, who caught two of Romero's touchdown passes, blocked a punt and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to push the lead while the shorthanded Panthers began to visibly tire in the third quarter.
Nederland is scheduled to host Miami-Yoder next Saturday.
Justice 44, Nederland 13
At Recht FieldNederland 01300—13Justice 161468—44
Justice — Justin Hunyadi 67 pass from Enrique Romero (Vince Cortez pass from Romero). Justice — TyShawn Silva 13 pass from Romero (Cortez pass from Romero).
Nederland — Taylor Hoffman 14 pass from Damon Vigil (Chris Francis kick). Nederland — Hoffman 56 interception return (kick no good). Justice — Cortez 8 pass from Romero (David Briones pass from Romero). Justice — Hunyadi 28 pass from Romero (fumbled snap).
Justice — Hunyadi 41 fumble return (run short).
Justice — Romero 3 run (Hunyadi pass from Romero).
RUSHING — Nederland: Taylor Hoffman 10-69, Adler Mueller 6-27, Aubrey Charleson 10-21, Rain Larrabee 1-(-4), Damon Vigil 3-(-7). Justice: Vince Cortez 8-72, Enrique Romero 10-66, TyShawn Silva 2-56, Johnny Rodriguez 1-(-1), Pedro Martinez 1-(-10).
PASSING — Nederland: Damon Vigil 3-11-0-59. Justice: 11-18-2-193.
RECEIVING — Nederland: Taylor Hoffman 3-59. Justice: Justin Hunyadi 5-136, Zach McFarland 2-25, Vince Cortez 3-19, TyShawn Silva 1-13.