NEDERLAND — For the first time in a long time, football is fun again at Nederland.
Earlier this season, the Panthers finally put a 23-game losing streak behind them. Sure, there was a win via forfeit during that span, but that asterisk paled in comparison to the euphoria of getting that weight off the team’s collective back.
Now the wins are piling up.
Nederland’s resurgence continued with a resounding homecoming win Saturday afternoon, as the Panthers topped the visiting Longmont Christian Warriors 56-12 in an 8-Man Central League battle.
“We’re loving it — the team is enthusiastic this year and the school is behind us more,” Nederland senior Noah Ridnell said. “Everyone’s feeling great here. Our line did a very good job blocking today, our running backs were running hard, and the receivers were catching the ball. The defense shut them down, too. It was just a good game.”
Nederland scored on seven of eight first-half drives en route to a 50-6 lead at the break. The lone exception during that opening salvo included a first-and-goal situation that ended with a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown from Longmont Christian’s Cameron Jauregui, a highlight that trimmed the Panthers’ early edge to 18-6 and briefly kept the visiting Warriors in the contest.
Longmont Christian couldn’t parlay the momentum, though. Nederland responded with four consecutive touchdowns, including a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Kellen Sequeira, to take a 50-6 lead and ignite the mercy-rule running clock just before halftime.
“We’re a great, tight-knit group,” Nederland coach Aaron Jones said. “I’m really happy for our eight seniors to be getting victories and finally win some. It’s been a long time coming for them.”
Nederland rolled up 387 rushing yards, an effort led by Ridnell’s 114 yards on nine carries, and finished with 523 yards of total offense. The win improved the Panthers to 4-3 overall and within the league. Nederland should be favored in a non-league tilt next week against Cripple Creek-Victor and can make a huge statement toward earning a playoff berth when the club visits Rocky Mountain Lutheran on Oct. 25.
While Sequeira has played well — he went 8 for 12 for 136 yards and three touchdown passes — Jones hopes to have junior Michael Wood back under center for the Rocky Mountain Lutheran contest. At the very least Wood, who missed Saturday’s contest due to a shoulder injury, should be ready for defensive duty in two weeks.
“We think next week we can have a very similar game to this one, and then we know we match up well against Rocky Mountain,” Jones said. “We’re not giving up on that (playoff) hope. If we can finish on a four-game win streak, and we can get some decisive wins, then maybe we can get that 16 seed.”
It hasn’t been the triumphant homecoming envisioned by Longmont Christian coach Josh Mendenhall, an alum of the school, for his first season at the helm of the Warriors program.
Numbers have been an issue, with only 11 players in pads on Saturday as injuries have further depleted the Warriors’ already-limited depth. Longmont Christian also is battling the natural miscues of youth, with only one senior on the roster and freshmen and sophomores permeating the lineup.
Two of those sophomores are Jauregui and quarterback Luke Puchino, both of whom continued to show commendable gumption despite the odds against them. In addition to his highlight-reel interception return, Jauregui hauled in a 69-yard touchdown pass from Puchino and finished with six receptions for 134 yards.
Under heavy pressure throughout the contest, Puchino went 15 for 36 for 180 yards. It was an ominout start for the Warriors, as their first four offensive snaps resulted in minus-3 yards, a two-yard punt, and a safety when Ridnell dropped running back Max Azar in the end zone.
“This class coming up, I think we’re going to be good. We’re just taking it on the chin right now,” Mendenhall said. “If we just get better every week, that’s a win in my book. Obviously we want to win games, but we’re struggling right now with numbers and injuries.
“We do have a good passing game. But I don’t want to be one-dimensional, and that’s what we’ve been.”
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Nederland 56, Longmont Christian 12
At Nederland HS
Longmont Christian (0-7, 0-4) 6 0 6 0 — 12
Nederland (4-3, 4-3) 18 32 0 6 — 56
Nederland — Quin Kuchenmeister 30 pass from Kellen Sequeira (Jaron Dillon run). Nederland — Safety; Max Azar tackled in end zone by Noah Ridnell. Nederland — Dillon 12 run (Kuchenmeister pass from Sequeira). Longmont Christian — Cameron Jauregui 97 interception return (pass failed).
Nederland — Austin O’Melia 1 run (Jack Abendroth pass from Sequeira). Nederland — Jaylan Rasdall 39 run (pass failed). Nederland — Abendroth 32 pass from Sequeira (run failed). Nederland — Ridnell 1 run (pass failed). Nederland — Ike Thibedeau 43 pass from Sequeira (run failed).
Longmont Christian — Jauregui 69 pass from Luke Puchino (pass failed).
Nederland — Tucker Carr 19 run (pass failed).
RUSHING — Longmont Christian: Kenneth Hannan 1-2, Max Azar 4-(-1), Luke Puchino 2-(-24); Nederland: Noah Ridnell 9-114, Jaron Dillon 7-73, Austin O’Melia 10-85, Jaylan Rasdall 5-57, Kellen Sequeira 5-26, Tucker Carr 2-26, Ken Shankey 4-9, Jared Rasdall 1-(-3).
PASSING — Longmont Christian: Luke Puchino 15-36-1-180. Nederland: Kellen Sequeira 8-12-1-136.
RECEIVING — Longmont Christian: Cameron Jauregui 6-134, Micah Bosman 4-26, Max Azar 3-18, Anthony Puchino 1-6, Kenneth Hannan 1-(-4). Nederland: Quin Kuchenmeister 2-39, Ike Thibedeau 1-43, Jake Abendroth 1-32, Jaron Dillon 1-14, Noah Ridnell 1-6, Bob Allen 1-2.