LONGMONT — The Skyline football team's first-round win over Pueblo West last Saturday was the program's first playoff victory since 1999.
Ending a 19-year drought without a playoff win was a momentous occasion and a breakthrough moment for Skyline football. It turns out, that wasn't the end of the success story that has been the 2018 Falcons.
Far from it.
Following up last week's win, the ninth-seeded Falcons hosted No. 1 Pine Creek in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Everly-Montgomery Field on Saturday afternoon. It was a classic "David vs. Goliath" scenario in frigid and snowy conditions with Pine Creek having played in four of the past five 4A state title games and won three of them, and Skyline having just won their first playoff game in all of its current players' lifetimes.
The Falcons won, 21-20.
It took Skyline 19 years to win a playoff game. Now in the span of a few short weeks, the Falcons have gone from barrier-breakers to potential state title contenders and sit just one more win away from playing in this fall's state championship game.
"We knew coming in that we had to play as a brotherhood," Falcons senior Kyle West said. "There's no off weeks in the playoffs and every team is talented. Every team wants to win that state title. Pine Creek is the No. 1 team for a reason. They're extremely talented and we knew that.
"We knew we just had to come out and play as a brotherhood and play our best game of the season. That's what we did and we came away with a win. What this team is doing right now is the biggest thing in my life."
The last year Skyline won a playoff game, the Falcons also reached the title game. It was clear early on Saturday that they were eager to go back, but they weren't immune to the nerves and pressure that teams often face when entering uncharted territory.
West halted the opening drive of Saturday's quarterfinal with a tackle for loss on 4th-and-3 but Skyline's first offensive possession of the program's most-anticipated contested in 19 years netted negative-eight yards. Taking over at midfield, Pine Creek then scored the first points of the game with a seven-play drive that ended with Max Lofy leaping high over the line for a 1-yard touchdown.
Again ignited by West, who picked up the Falcons' initial first down of the game on a fake-punt run that saved them from starting the game with consecutive three-and-outs, the Falcons scored nine plays later. West did the honors, hauling in a screen pass from sophomore quarterback Chase Silva and scampering for a 15-yard touchdown. The Falcons, however, made a bad snap on the ensuing point-after try and failed to complete a panicked throw to the end zone.
The Falcons took their first lead of the game on their next drive. Taking over with a short field at their opponents' 25-yard line, they finished the short possession with a 4-yard score by tailback Jeremy Hollingsworth, who entered the game second in 4A with 1,475 rushing yards. This time, Silva hit wideout Jack Wathen for a two-point conversion and a 14-7 lead.
Another goal-line score from Lofy tied the game up going into halftime.
"We came out here with all the confidence in the world after beating Pueblo West last week," Falcons linebacker Will Drewes said. "We realized that if we love one another and come out playing as a team, then no one can stop us. We weren't scared today. We came out with love and played as a brotherhood and as a team."
Pine Creek's offense started the game without star tailback David Moore III, who had accounted for 55 percent of the Eagles' rushing offense to date with 1,471 yards and 17 touchdowns but fractured his elbow in the first round of the postseason. Even after the running back known as "DM3" unexpectedly entered the game in the third quarter, Drewes and the Falcons' defense came up with big play after big play in the second half.
The Falcons stopped the Eagles' first drive of the second half when linebacker Drewes tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage and intercepted it himself. After Hollingsworth gave the Falcons a 21-14 lead with a 2-yard score in the third quarter, their defense ended the Eagles' next drive when two-way tackle Oscar Aranday forced a sack fumble and his teammates recovered the ball. On the Eagles' third drive of the second half, Falcons linebacker Ethan Drewes tackled Moore III for a four-yard loss on 4th-and-1 to force a turnover on downs.
Pine Creek finally scored on a 24-yard pass from quarterback Gavin Herberg to Daniel Bone with 6 minutes, 3 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But on the potential game-tying kick that followed, Luke Wieland missed wide left and the Falcons maintained a narrow one-point lead.
The Falcons' next drive ran three minutes off the clock but didn't result in any points, and Pine Creek took the ball with 2:37 remaining in the game and with an opportunity to take the lead. Starting at their own 31-yard line, the Eagles quickly threw three incomplete passes. On 4th-and-10, Herberg scrambled and was hit by several Falcons just before he reached the line to gain. He fumbled and Drewes recovered the ball. Since neither team had any timeouts remaining, the Falcons ran the clock out to win the game and advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1999.
"It's an awesome thing and it's all about belief and mentality," SHS head coach Mike Silva said. "I've been saying that all week and even last week before Pueblo West. We know we're capable of these kinds of things. Often times, we haven't performed that way but we played our best two games the last two weeks and those are the most important two. Hopefully that trend continues and if next week is our best game yet, just like the last two, we'll be in the finals.
"That's the task. That's the challenge. If our next game is our best one, then we have a great shot to be in it to win it. To be here with this program the way we've done it is just awesome."
The Falcons will play at No. 5 Ponderosa (10-2) in the semifinals next week, likely at EchoPark Stadium in Parker.
Silva, who took over as the Falcons' starter because of injury in Week 1, now leads 4A with nearly 2,600 passing yards. The sophomore has thrown 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions. West entered Saturday's game leading 4A with 1,217 receiving yards and still leads the classification. Wathen leads 4A with 11 receiving touchdowns.
Skyline 21, Pine Creek 20
At Everly-Montgomery FieldPine Creek (10-2) 7 7 0 6 — 20
Pine Creek — Max Lofy 1 run (Luke Wieland kick).
Skyline — Kyle West 15 pass from Chase Silva (pass incomplete). Skyline — Jeremy Hollingsworth 4 run (Jack Wathen pass from Silva). Pine Creek — Lofy 1 run (Wieland kick).
Skyline — Hollingsworth 2 run (Gabriel Sosa kick).
Pine Creek — Daniel Bone 24 pass from Gavin Herberg (kick missed).
RUSHING — Pine Creek: Spencer Peterson 12-68, Max Lofy 15-38, Eddie Kyle 5-19, David Moore 7-17, Gavin Herberg 4-3; Skyline: Jeremy Hollingsworth 27-72, Chase Silva 5-24, Kyle West 2-12.
PASSING — Pine Creek: Gavin Herberg 9-16-0-131; Skyline: Chase Silva 18-26-1-199.
RECEIVING — Pine Creek: Max Lofy 3-55, Eddie Kyle 3-37, Daniel Bone 2-33, Nate Vasquez 1-6; Skyline: Jack Wathen 7-86, Kyle West 8-65, Jeremy Hollingsworth 2-35, Esteban Morado 1-13.