I found out early on in my more than 20 years of covering high school sports in the state of Colorado that there was not a more idyllic place to witness a football game than Recht Field in Boulder.
There's something special about the place, from the walk across the bridge into the stadium to the Flatirons in the background. It seems like the perfect backdrop for a Bruce Springsteen song, or a long essay about the dreams of youth. The place just screams tradition
But up until Friday night, I had never witnessed that venue's marquee matchup -- the annual showdown between city rivals Fairview and Boulder High. For 54 years that's been the game to see in the city and it means much more than just another check mark in the win or the loss column.
It's a game the players will always remember, one they'll tell stories to their grandkids about.
And while the game turned into a blowout — Fairview won for the 10th straight season, pounding the Panthers 57-20 — the event itself and the pageantry surrounding it was everything I'd hoped it would be.
The schools and their respective communities do it right, from the loud student sections that show just the right amount of disdain for their rivals without crossing the line, to the large number of alumni who show up to reminisce and support their alma matter.
This year was a special one, as the Knights and the Panthers teamed up for a ribbon cutting for the stadium's new, $1.5 million state of the art press box. Former Denver Broncos greats Kenny Lanier and Mark Jackson where on hand for the pregame coin toss, and despite the lopsided final, it was another memorable chapter in the city's greatest rivalry.
A few thoughts:
• The state of Colorado better watch out, because Fairview has a quarterback that could be lighting up defenses for the next couple of years. Just a sophomore, Aidan Atkinson is already 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, and he has a rocket for an arm. He finished Friday's game with 313 yards and five touchdowns passing, and he had a couple of throws that travelled at least 60 yards in the air.
The Knights are known for producing top-flight quarterbacks, and Atkinson has the look of one that could be an all-time great.
• That said, Atkinson's job is made a lot easier because he has a great offensive line in front of him, and an athletic group of wide receivers and running backs to throw the ball to.
• Boulder also has a good sophomore quarterback in Drew Maier. While Atkinson didn't play under center for Fairview last year, Maier earned the Panthers' starting job as a freshman. A left-hander, Maier has improved by leaps and bounds between this season and last and Boulder is in good hands if he keeps improving.
• I love watching Mariano Kemp play. A guy that size — 5-10 and 230 pounds — shouldn't be as fast as he is. And when he puts his shoulder down, watch out. He's about to unleash some punishment on the poor defender brave enough to get in his way. Kemp finished with 204 yards and two scores on the ground (he also had a receiving TD), despite missing time after cramping up just after halftime.
And he had the play of the game, breaking off a 74 yard run moments after Boulder has scored to cut Fairview's lead to 29-20 with 33.3 seconds left in the first half. Kemp's big run set the Knights up at the 6, and he high-stepped it into the end zone on the next play, giving Fairview a 36-20 lead and taking away any momentum the Panthers had built heading into the half.
• If there's a better prep kicker in the state of Colorado than Fairview's Tevye Schuettpelz-Rohl, I'd like to see him. Heck, Schuettpelz-Rohl might be the Centennial State's best kicker that isn't getting paid by a pro team.
• Don't be fooled by the wide margin of victory — Boulder was much more competitive than the final score indicates. Coming off the programs biggest win in more than half a decade, the Panthers came out of the gate fired up and got an 80-yard touchdown pass from Drew Maier to Wilson Maier on the second play from scrimmage.
Boulder was close to even with Fairview for the first half, and actually could have had more points on the board if it wasn't for a great play by the Knights' Matt Greenwald.
Greenwald ran down Patrick Fletcher from behind after Fletcher broke off a 65 yard run midway through the first quarter, stripping the ball away at the Fairview 3. The ball squirted into the end zone and the Knights were able to jump on it for a touchback, spoiling a great Boulder scoring opportunity.
Still the Panthers were right there, and had grabbed momentum after Drew Maier's 16 yard touchdown toss to Cole Peterson cut the lead to 29-20 with under a minute to play in the first half.
But that just set the stage for Kemp's big run, and then Fairview's superior size and depth wore Boulder down in the second half.
Still, if the Panthers can quickly put this loss behind them and learn from it, they can be a team to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. Battling for a playoff spot isn't out of the question.
And as for their rivalry with Fairview? Boulder coach Vincent Smith was correct when he told BoCoPreps.com earlier in the week that, "...it's not a rivalry until you beat (Fairview). Right now, it's just two teams from the same town playing each other. We need to get back to making it a rivalry. It needs to be one of those edge-of-your-seats games and we want to bring a better contest to the game than a year ago."
• My bet is that Boulder will be back next year, gunning for Fairview with both barrels. And if you have a chance to see the game, I highly recommend it.
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