BROOMFIELD — Reward your defense.
Typically the Holy Family Tigers are a team that can rack up the points at will, but on Friday night at Mike D. Gabriel Stadium it was mistake after mistake against Fort Morgan that put Holy Family's status at Class 3A's No. 1 ranked team up in the air.
But because of a defensive unit holding tight against the No. 5 ranked Mustangs, a 13-0 halftime deficit was not that daunting. It proved capable of being overcome, as the Tigers muscled their way to a 16-13 win on Military Appreciation Night at Mike G. Gabriel Stadium.
With two weeks between contests, the Tigers looked out of sorts on offense for most of the night, but when their defense made key plays in the second half quarterback Stone Samaras and company were able to find the end zone just enough to complete the comeback.
"We challenged our kids at halftime, and I had told them all week that you're going to be in a game and you're going to face adversity that you're going to have to fight through," head coach Mike D. Gabriel said after the team honored current and former military in a post-game ceremony. "They were able to do that.
"Our kids have done a good job on defense all year, and tonight it was just a matter of time before our offense got clicking. We just had to wake up a little bit."
Holy Family's rally began at the start of the third quarter as they recovered a fumble on Fort Morgan's kickoff return attempt to gain possession at the 24 yard line. Three powerful rushes later, the Tigers (3-0) were back in the game at 13-7 when Mitchell Guyot scored from three yards out.
Through the next 15 minutes of game time, there were more mistakes than Gabriel would like to count, including two penalties on the same drive that erased Holy Family touchdown runs — a drive that would end with no points after Fort Morgan's Jimmy Keller came up with back-to-back sacks, too.
But the defense continued to make it hard for Fort Morgan (2-1) to get going on the ground and they also improved their pass coverage dramatically. Fort Morgan had 170 yards in the first half but just 52 yards in the second half.
More importantly than keeping Fort Morgan from gaining any rhythm, the Tigers were able to jump on a loose football right when they needed it most. In the fourth quarter, Matteo Lonardo came up with a fumble recovery on an Isaac Linker run that set HFHS up at the Mustang 42.
Though yet another big penalty at the 1 yard line set Holy Family back needing a touchdown with 8 minutes left, they were able to spread the field and get the ball to top target Kyle Helbig for a 16-yard score with 7:50 left to gain the lead.
On the next drive — as had been the case all night — the Tigers produced another big stop and even got points out of it. Holy Family pressured Linker in the end zone and the QB, who threw for 161 yards and an early touchdown, threw the ball away underhanded. It was ruled intentional grounding and the safety gave Holy Family the winning margin.
"We dealt some other stuff while we were off, but again you have to tell them that you're going to deal with a lot of things in life and you have to rise above it," Gabriel said. "Move forward and win."
Helbig finished with four catches for 83 yards but was mostly limited with a Fort Morgan tandem on him. That affected the Tigers in the first half as Samaras threw three interceptions, one of which was nearly returned for a touchdown.
However, Samaras recovered nicely in the second half completing 5 of 6 passes for 62 of his 108 total yards. Guyot had 39 yards rushing and the Tigers managed an un-Tiger like 237 yards overall.
Holy Family 16, Fort Morgan 13
At Holy Family HSFort Morgan7600—13Holy Family0079—16
Fort Morgan — Grayson Garver 16 pass from Isaac Linker (Jose Jimenez kick).
Fort Morgan — Adam Cardona 25 field goal. Fort Morgan — Jimenez 33 field goal.
Holy Family — Mitchell Guyot 3 run (Matteo Lonardo kick).
Holy Family — Kyle Helbig 16 pass from Stone Samaras (Lonardo kick). Holy Family — Safety (intentional grounding in end zone).
RUSHING — Fort Morgan: Isaac Linker 10-15, Danny Narvaez 8-2, John Hochanadal 8-25, Jacob Ortega 3-4, Sterling Sharp 1-2, JD Hamer 2-4. Holy Family: Mitchell Guyot 8-39, Hayden Strange 8-48, Braedon Peters 4-33, Davis Martinek 1-5, Dilan Gonzalez 3-7, Stone Samaras 12-(minus-3)
PASSING — Fort Morgan: Linker 11-21-1-161. Holy Family: Samaras 9-20-3-108.
RECEIVING — Fort Morgan: Luis Garcia 3-19, Ortega 4-104, Andrew Monroe 2-18, Narvaez 1-4, Grayson Garver 1-16. Holy Family: Kyle Helbig 4-83, Devin Doroff 2-14, Martinek 2-(minus-2), Gonzalez 1-13.