LONGMONT — In running its record to an astonishing 11-0 entering Saturday, the Mead football team had consistently accomplished a few things — one being the ability to drive the will out of an opponent.
But, the Longmont Trojans simply would not let that ring true for them.
Not in a Week 4 regular-season loss to the Mavericks, and certainly not when it came to a backs-against-the-wall point in Saturday's Class 3A state quarterfinal matchup at MHS.
Longmont, a 1-3 team through four weeks after a 38-14 drubbing at the hands of their oncoming rivals, won its eighth straight game in front of a packed crowd by becoming the only team to give itself a chance to execute a game-winning drive on the Mavericks in 2017.
Drake Engelking's third touchdown run of the game came with 16 seconds left — the end of a fairly magical drive for LHS — and Longmont advanced to next week's semifinals with a 30-26 victory.
"The last time they got us, it left such a sour taste in our mouth that we had no choice but to win this time," said Longmont junior quarterback Oakley Dehning after completing three clutch throws on the final drive to help the No. 8 seed top the No. 1-seeded Mavs. "When our team was 1-3, no one lost hope. When we went down in this one, we still knew we had a shot at it. We just kept our hope throughout the whole game."
"The kids just wanted to be better (after the 1-3 start), and the one thing about when you start like that is you get to really see loyalty," Longmont head coach Doug Johnson said after the win. "You don't get to experience real loyalty when you're undefeated and everything is going good. You get to be loyal when you're 1-3.
"That's Austin Hassler, Jason Schneider, Nick Paone — a lot of guys coming to work every day just saying, we have each other's back."
No one expected the rematch of a Sept. 22 game to play out, and in fact this one was exceptionally tight throughout the second half with four lead changes overall.
It was the final lead change that mattered most, and it came after the Longmont (9-3) defense had finally made a stop on a fourth down play for Mead (11-1).
In building a 26-23 lead shortly into the fourth quarter, Mead had gone 5-for-5 on fourth-down conversions but were faced with yet another one with 6 minutes, 20 seconds left in the contest. A Tyler Keys quarterback keeper was sniffed out, and Longmont had held its ground.
"Our defense saved me on that one, because I had just a bad, bad interception," Dehning said, referring to a pick by Ryan Lavanchy that gave MHS the ball back in Longmont territory.
What came next was a series that involved moments of adversity for the Trojans, to be true. After gaining one first down, an offensive pass interference call put LHS at 1st-and-25 back in their own territory. Eventually that led to a 4th-down and 8 near midfield, but Dehning found Jaydon Elkins just beyond the marker to keep the drive alive.
From there, Dehning hit Elkins on another 17-yard catch and also found Sage Yazzie for a 6-yard reception, all the while mixing in a few short-to-medium runs from Engelking, Dehning and Cruz Garcia.
Engelking had tough runs all day, finishing with 75 yards on 20 carries, and it was his final plunge from 2 yards out that sent the LHS crowd into a frenzy and silenced the home side.
Mead had one last chance to make a play as Keys returned the ensuing kickoff to the Longmont 35 and then drew a facemask call to bring the ball to the LHS 20 with 6.7 seconds left. But an incomplete pass looking for Edwards was followed by a half-back option pass attempt intercepted by Danny Nichols to seal it.
"At halftime, we just kind of talked about how we didn't want this to be a repeat of last time," said senior Jarod Fixmer, who was incredibly making his 50th career varsity start. "Everybody focused up and got it done. Oakley is a great leader — he knew as a junior that this wasn't going to be his last game but he also knew that for us seniors it could have been. He had all the pressure on him and he came through for us.
"We had to have that stop though, and if we don't get that we don't get a shot at a game-winning drive."
Mead fell behind 15-0 but scored 19 straight points to pull ahead early in the third quarter. Keys had a season-most 33 carries for 166 yards, and when he scored on a 1-yard run just four seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Mavericks a 26-23 advantage, it felt like maybe Mead once again had done what it had all season long.
Instead, Longmont rose to the challenge and will get to practice on Thanksgiving, preparing for No. 5 seeded Erie. The Tigers knocked off No. 13 Durango in another wild one on Saturday.
"I'm so proud of our guys," Johnson said.
Longmont 30, Mead 26
At Mead HSLongmont (9-3)15087—30
Longmont — Jaydon Elkins 12 pass from Oakley Dehning (Marcos Schneider-Rodriguez pass from Dehning). Longmont — Drake Engelking 1 run (Cruz Garcia kick).
Mead — Nathan Mackey 2 run (Taylor Kamigaki kick). Mead — Easton Willyard 16 punt block return (pass failed).
Mead — Mackey 1 run (pass failed). Longmont — Engelking 1 run (Elkins from Dehning).
Mead — Tyler Keys 1 run (Kamigaki kick). Longmont — Engelking 2 run (Cruz Garcia kick).
RUSHING — Longmont: Drake Engelking 20-75, Oakley Dehning 13-55, Jaydon Elkins 6-38, Cruz Garcia 7-42. Mead: Tyler Keys 32-166, Nathan Mackey 18-74, Derek Edwards 3-28, Jake Wachter 2-6.
PASSING — Longmont: Oakley Dehning 10-21-1-183. Mead: Keys 2-5-0-20, Mackey 0-1-1-0.
RECEIVING — Longmont: Jaydon Elkins 3-38, Beck Fieth 2-42, Nick Paone 1-45, Engelking 2-8, Garcia 1-44, Sage Yazzie 1-6. Mead: Edwards 1-4, Dom Esters 1-16.