AURORA — Austin Apodaca could only shake his head in a stunned stupor as he reviewed what proved to be the final play of his remarkable career at Silver Creek High School.
Everything seemed to be unfolding according to plan. Sure, the Raptors were in the unfamiliar position of needing a late rally. But, as expected of elite quarterbacks, Apodaca moved Silver Creek to the edge of the end zone with a state championship in the balance and the final minutes ticking away.
As he had done thousands of times before, Apodaca took the shotgun snap and routinely fed the ball into the belly of running back Ian McNabb. Then the improbable happened. The next thing Apodaca knew the ball was on the ground, soon to be recovered by Windsor.
And then it was over.
That fumble, the last of four turnovers committed by the Raptors, ended Silver Creek’s magical ride, as Windsor used a punishing defensive effort to upend the Raptors 14-7 in the Class 3A state championship game at Legacy Stadium.
“I don’t even know — I can’t even remember and I can’t even tell you what went wrong,” Apodaca said. “It just kind of happened. It was a fine snap, and then kind of a weird exchange. Things happen like that. It was a tough one, but things happen like that.”
The turnover on the Apodaca-McNabb exchange deflated a Raptors club that was on the verge of producing the tying score. Yet that merely was the last of many transgressions by the Raptors, who entered the contest averaging 43.4 points a game and whose previous low scoring output was a 28-point effort during a win against Palmer Ridge in the first round of the playoffs.
Windsor was one of those previous victims, having surrendered 41 points to Silver Creek in the Raptors’ Week 5 victory in late September. Yet the Wizards made several crucial defensive adjustments to get more pressure on Apodaca, who was sacked three times. Apodaca, who uncharacteristically had several passes sail on him in frigid temperatures that fell into the teens by the end of the game, also threw two interceptions.
“I feel like (the weather) affected Austin a little bit because he wasn’t used to this cold weather,” said senior receiver Greg Reynolds, who finished with 122 yards on 10 receptions. “The ball is hard and his fingers were cold. I think that made a difference a little bit.”
The teams appeared headed for a scoreless tie at halftime when Windsor wrested the momentum with a surprising play at the end of the second quarter.
After forcing the first of Apodaca’s interceptions, Windsor took possession at the Raptors’ 42-yard line. Wizards quarterback Joe Sanger, who finished with 101 yards rushing and typically is known more as a runner than a passer, burned the Raptors with an unexpected strike, hitting Jacob Molina in stride down the right sideline to give Windsor a 7-0 lead at the break.
Silver Creek finally broke through late in the third quarter, overcoming a holding penalty to put together a 97-yard drive that Apodaca capped with a 59-yard touchdown pass on a post pattern to Ryan Rankin.
Windsor, though, answered immediately, keeping its ensuing drive alive on a fake punt on fourth-and-three that Jordan Porterfield converted with a 12-yard scamper. Sanger broke the tie six plays later with a 2-yard run, giving the Wizards a 14-7 lead with 10:28 remaining.
Silver Creek had ample opportunities to tie the game, but on the first play of the Raptors’ next drive Apodaca was intercepted by Windsor’s Lance Cox, who recorded his state-leading 13th interception of the year.
After forcing a punt, the Raptors still had one last chance. Apodaca completed three passes to Reynolds totaling 47 yards to move Silver Creek into a first-and-goal situation at the 3-yard line, but the final fumble moments later ended Silver Creek’s title dreams.
“You have to give credit to their defense, but at the same point, we left a lot of points out there,” Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. “I think we moved it pretty much both halves. But give credit to them–the team that makes the least mistakes in this game usually wins, and that was them today.”
WINDSOR 14, SILVER CREEK 7
At Legacy Stadium
Windsor (13-1) 0 7 0 7 — 14
Silver Creek (12-2) 0 0 7 0 — 7
Windsor — Jacob Molina 42 pass from Joe Sanger (Neal Elens kick).
Silver Creek — Ryan Rankin 59 pass from Austin Apodaca (Ryan Templeton kick).
Windsor — Sanger 2 run (Elens kick).
First downs 11 16
Rushes-yards 51-207 24-38
Passing yards 70 313
Comp-Att-Int 4-5-0 22-40-2
Punts-Avg. 5-42 3-35
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 5-40 6-54
RUSHING — Windsor: Sanger 25-101, Porterfield 14-58, Schmidt 5-23, Dressor 5-23, Hooley 2-2; Silver Creek: McNabb 13-64, Dunlavy 1-1, Quiroz 1-0, Reynolds 1-(-3), Apodaca 8-(-24).
PASSING (comp-att-int-yards) — Windsor: Sanger 4-5-0-70; Silver Creek: Apodaca 22-40-2-313.
RECEIVING — Windsor: Baldwin 2-30, Molina 1-42, Schmidt 1-(-2); Silver Creek: Reynolds 10-122, Knechtel 6-81, Rankin 5-95, Lord 1-15.