On a team known for it's explosive offense, Skyline's Alex Ortiz was the unlikeliest of heroes Saturday at Everly-Montgomery Field.
But it was Ortiz, and his teammates on the defensive side of the ball, that came up with the key plays to help the 10th-ranked Falcons hold off visiting Fort Collins 35-28 in a game that ended up being a lot closer than it should have been.
Ortiz, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound senior middle linebacker, came up with a pair of huge turnovers that helped Skyline improve to 7-1 overall, 2-1 in the 4A Northern League.
Ortiz's goal-line interception of Lambkins quarterback Hayden Iverson killed a Fort Collins scoring threat late in the first half, and then his fumble recovery near midfield set up a short Jeremy Hollingsworth touchdown run that pushed the Falcons lead to 28-0 late in the third quarter.
"We were prepared for this game it was the biggest game of our lives," Ortiz said. "We're just here to play.
"The adrenaline was pumping."
It was the defense that kept Skyline in the game until the offense, which had been averaging 54 points a contest, could find some rhythm. Twice in the first half the Falcons denied Fort Collins on goal line stands, including on Ortiz's interception with 15 seconds left in the second quarter that preserved a 7-0 lead.
Then the defense set the tone in the third quarter, giving the offense a short field to work with as Skyline erupted for 21 points in a four minute span that put the Falcons in control of the contest.
They stopped Fort Collins on a fourth-and-2 at midfield on the first drive of the second half, setting up an 8-yard Nate McGregor touchdown run with 7:36 left in the third. On the next drive Iverson coughed up the ball after a massive hit by Jack Wathen, and Nick Black jumped on it at the Lambkins' 20-yard line.
McGregor hit Wathen on a slant pass on the next play for a score, pushing the lead to 21-0.
Two plays later Ricky Waters drilled Abbi Asseged after a short pass, causing another fumble that Ortiz jumped on at the Fort Collins 41. That lead to Hollingsworth's 27th rushing touchdown of the year and a 28-0 lead with 3:18 to play in the third.
"I thought it was a great defensive game," said Falcons coach Mike Silva, whose team entered the game ranked 10th in Class 4A's RPI. "The game on a whole, I thought we played great defensively and our offense answered the challenge in the second half."
The game took a strange turn after that, as Silva put Skyline in a prevent mode that allowed Fort Collins to make things interesting down the stretch. The Lambkins would get their first score of the game late in the third quarter, and then added another score early in the fourth after the Falcons turned the ball over on downs near midfield after going for it on fourth-and-2.
Skyline would stem the tide a bit with an 11-yard scoring strike from McGregor to Austin Robinson with just 2:36 to play, but Fort Collins quickly drove down the field and got another touchdown with 1:11 to play. The Lambkins would recover an onside kick, turned the ball over following a Kyle West sack on fourth down, get the ball back and score a final touchdown with one second remaining on the clock.
"I think our prevent prevented us from playing defense," Silva said. "We gave up a couple there late that was just kind of a silly thing, which kind of unfortunately ruined a great defensive effort otherwise."
With Hollingsworth, who came into the game with 1,391 rushing yards, somewhat held in check (if 137 yards and a score on 24 carries can qualify), West had a big game for Skyline, nabbing eight receptions for 142 yards to go with 57 yards rushing and a score and a stout effort on defense.
McGregor finished with 185 yards passing and two scores in the air, and 50 yards rushing and another score on the ground. Iverson threw for 346 yards and three scores for Fort Collins, all but 77 coming in the second half.
With the win, the Falcons set themselves up with a chance to nab a share of the Northern League championship when they travel to Windsor next Friday. A win over the Wizards could cause a three-way tie atop the standings with Skyline, Monarch and Windsor all possibly sitting at 3-1 in the conference.
"We put ourselves in an opportunity to win a conference championship, and that's what we're going to go up there and try to do next weekend," Silva said. "We were within a touchdown of them last year, so we have no fear of Windsor. It's just, let's go play."
John Rosa: 303-473-1315, firstname.lastname@example.org
Skyline 35, Fort Collins 28
At Everly-Montgomery FieldFort Collins (3-5, 1-2)00721—28
Skyline (7-1, 2-1)70217—35
Skyline — Kyle West 7 run (Ben Kalishar kick), 9:52.
Skyline — Nate McGregor 8 run (Kalishar kick), 7:36. Skyline — Jack Wathen 20 pass from McGregor (Kalishar kick), 5:52. Skyline — Jeremy Hollingsworth 4 run (Kalishar kick), 3:18. Fort Collins — Jake Leone 6 pass from Hayden Iverson (Garrett McGraw kick), 0:54.
Fort Collins — Kelian Voggesser 13 run (McGraw kick). Skyline — Austin Robinson 11 pass from McGregor (Kalishar kick), 2:43. Fort Collins — Abbi Asseged 18 pass from Iverson (McGraw kick), 1:11. Fort Collins — Joey McGuire 27 pass from Iverson (McGraw kick) 0:01.
RUSHING — Fort Collins: Michael Remmers 12-89, Veggesser 2-18, Iverson 9-12, Shay Wind 3-11, McGraw 1-1. Skyline: Hollingsworth 24-137, Kyle West 6-57, McGregor 14-50, Moses Rivera 2-5.
PASSING — Fort Collins: Iverson 21-37-1-346. Skyline: McGregor 11-23-0-185.
RECEIVING — Fort Collins: Leone 9-122, Voggesser 4-112, Jackson Schorr 3-37, Asseged 3-23, Maguire 1-27, Remmers 1-25. Skyline: West 8-142, Austin Robinson 2-23, Wathen 1-20.