LONGMONT — Niwot coach Ron Tesone has been teaching young student-athletes about football and the game of life for a long time, but he was the one who learned a lesson from his players on Saturday night.
Trailing 31-0 at halftime to Greeley West, ranked No. 7 in Class 4A, the Cougars watched Spartans senior Tyler Ficek take the opening kickoff of the second half 93 yards to the end zone.
Niwot could have packed it in right there. Instead, something incredible happened.
No, the Cougars didn’t put together an unbelievable rally for an upset. But they did outplay Greeley West in the third and fourth quarters before falling 58-31 in a Northern Conference game at Everly-Montgomery Field.
“These guys continually teach adults and coaches stuff about not giving up. I am really proud of the effort,” Tesone said. “We put 31 points on the board in a quarter and a half. Their resilience — it’s the best part about being a coach.”
Niwot quarterback Nate Merriman finished with 233 yards and two touchdown throws on 16-of-32 passing, including a 13-for-22 performance in the second half. Running back Dillon Manzanares battled for 152 yards and two scores on 20 carries, and Elijah Noterman hauled in six receptions for 68 yards and a touchdown.
The Cougars outscored Greeley West 31-27 in the second half, even as the Spartans added a late touchdown run when they could have (should have) kneeled on the ball. The coach took blame for that final score with 20 seconds remaining in the game, which some Niwot fans considered piling on.
“We should have kneeled there at the end. That was my fault and I feel badly about that,” coach Mark Roggy said. “Niwot is a class act.”
Despite the Cougars’ rally try, Greeley West pulled off way too many big plays.
JJ Davis (189) and David Eddy (173) combined for 362 yards on the ground and touchdown runs of 78, 56, 56 and 50 yards. James Dowgin also took a slant pass 83 yards for a touchdown reception.
Many of those big plays immediately followed a score by the Cougars and sucked the life out the comeback. Still, Niwot walked away feeling positive.
“We came out a halftime and we were fired up,” said Tommy Dyer, who intercepted a pass and booted a 32-yard field goal. “We were down 31-0 but we fought, we fought and we didn’t give up. We were in a deep hole but I wouldn’t put anything past the guys in the locker room. We scored 31 points on the No. 7 team in 4A and we’re proud of that.”
As always, Manzanares was a force as he chewed up yards in the face of a big and fast Greeley West defense. And Merriman looked great in the second half, completing six of his first seven pass attempts in the third quarter as Niwot clawed back into the game.
The junior stood in the pocket and took some shots, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We went into the locker room and totally changed our attitude. We had to keep our pride,” he said. “I’m beat up but that’s why I love the game of football.”
Brady Delander can be reached at email@example.com.
GREELEY WEST 58, NIWOT 31
At Everly-Montgomeryn Field
Greeley West (3-1, 1-0) 7 24 7 20 — 58
Niwot (1-3, 0-2) 0 0 14 17 — 31
Greeley West — Tyler Ficek 25 reception from Brandon Gallatin (Grant Buchanan kick), 7:53.
Greeley West — James Dowgin 83 pass from Gallatin (Buchanan kick), 11:40.
Greeley West — David Eddy 56 run (Buchanan kick), 8:08.
Greeley West — Eddy 56 run (Buchanan kick), 5:12.
Greeley West — Buchanan 34 FG, 0.0.
Greeley West — Ficek 93 kickoff return (Buchanan kick), 11:42.
Niwot — Max McCaddon 13 reception from Nate Merriman (Tommy Dyer kick), 7:09.
Niwot — Dillon Manzanares 23 run (Dyer kick), 5:07.
Niwot — Dyer 32 FG, 11:56.
Greeley West — JJ Davis 78 run (pass failed), 11:36.
Niwot — Elijah Noterman 23 reception from Merriman (Dyer kick), 6:20.
Niwot — Manzanares 6 run (Dyer kick) 2:16.
Greeley West — Davis 50 run (Buchanan kick), 1:59.
Greeley West — Levi Dopler 11 run (Buchanan kick), 19.9.
First downs 20 19
Rushes-yards 30-383 43-183
Passing yards 49 233
Comp-Att-Int 4-9-1 16-32-0
Punts-Avg. 4-45.5 7-40.1
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 5-1
Penalties-Yards 10-126 3-25
RUSHING — Greeley West: Davis 14-189, Eddy 10-173, Dopler 1-11, Gallatin 5-10; Niwot: Manzanares 20-152, Nick Stager 9-31, Jake Sarosi 5-16, Merriman 9-(minus 16).
PASSING (comp-att-int-yards) –Greeley West: Gallatin 4-9-1-49; Niwot: Merriman 16-32-0-233.
RECEIVING — Greeley West: Ficek 1-25, Dowgin 2-23, Eddy 1-1; Niwot: Noterman 6-68, McCaddon 3-56, Sage Eckman 2-43, Manzanares 2-25, Cahill Kelleghan 1-20, Dyer 1-14, Sarosi 2-11.