NEDERLAND — Football on a week-to-week basis at Justice High School is a crapshoot.
Phoenix coach Nels Thoreson never knows exactly what he is going to get and game plans are basically done on the fly.
On Saturday, Justice traveled up the hill to play Nederland, a team that still has intentions of sneaking into the 8-man playoffs, and did so with just 11 players.
“I always tell them, only the strong survive and we are battling,” said Thoreson, who saw his roster shrink by five players over the past two weeks. “We have four kids in jail, we have another break his tibia two weeks ago and still another going to Children’s Hospital for an unknown ailment.
“These kids are warriors, and they go through a lot. It’s all about finishing and fighting through for them.”
The Panthers took advantage of their undermanned foe, improving to 5-2 — both overall and in the 8-man Central League — with a 62-18 win over the Phoenix.
“Give (Justice) a lot of credit, we have been there before. Coach Thoreson is awesome,” Nederland coach Aaron Jones said. “But we have to make statements if we want to get a No. 15 or 16 seed, it’s going to be difficult, but if we can finish on a six game winning streak and play well against the teams we need to play well against then you never know.”
The first quarter on homecoming Saturday took nearly an hour to play. A bevy or turnovers and long plays from both sides had the Panthers up 42-12 after “12 minutes” had run off the clock.
Nederland scored the first 20 points and did so on the ground. Junior running back Kenny Shankey scored the first two Panthers touchdowns on runs of 2 and 19 yards. Senior Quin Kuechenmeister scored the next one, taking a hand-off from his wide receiver position and going in from 3-yards out to put Nederland up 20-0 less than five minutes into the game.
Justice (0-6 overall, 0-5 league) would cut into the lead when junior Julio Marquez hooked up with Travis Kirkland for a 54 yard touchdown.
Playing into the ever present Nederland breeze, the Panthers would eventually get the passing game going and quarterback Jaylan Rasdall would go to his favorite target, Jack Abendroth over and over again before the quarter was over.
The duo connected seven times in the first quarter, three of them for scores — including a 6-yard score where Rasdall threw it to a spot in the back of the end zone and Abendroth, who looked like he didn’t have a play on it, went and got it.
“It wasn’t there at first and a lot of Jaylan’s balls where in the toes or over the head, but he settled in there,” said Jones, whose team was coming off an emotional win last week against rival Gilpin County. “(Rasdall) is a talented kid and can do a lot of things with his feet and there a re a lot of things we can do with him at quarterback.”
Rasdall completed nine of his 10 passes to Abendroth.
Despite its best efforts, including a nice 75-yard touchdown pass from Marquez to Enoch Trowell, Justice could not fend off the running clock in the first half. Nederland would make it happen with 4:36 to play in the first half on a Austin O’Melia 12 yard run.
“All I ask is for them to give 100 percent effort and leave it all on the field,” Thoreson said. “I think they did that today even though the score does not reflect that. I’m proud of them.
“What we do at Justice isn’t about winning and losing, it’s about being accountable to your teammates, to your family and doing the right thing. If you do that, then on the football field and in life, you are going to succeed.”
In a weird scheduling quirk that occurred when Longmont Christian had to fold its program before the season started, Nederland will again face Gilpin County next week in a nonleague game.
The game will be played under the rented lights in Blackhawk on Friday night, and the Panthers know they need to come out and take care of business to keep the postseason hopes alive.
“It’s out of our hands and all we can do is keep winning these game,” Jones said.
Nederland 62, Justice 18
Justice (0-6, 0-5)
Nederland (4-2, 4-2)
Nederland — Ken Shankey 2 run (kick failed).
Nederland — Shankey 19 run (run failed).
Nederland — Quin Kuechenmeister 3 run (Jack Abendroth pass from Jaylan Rasdall).
Justice — Travis Kirkland 54 pass from Julio Marquez (run failed).
Nederland — Abendroth 20 pass from Jay. Rasdall (Jay. Rasdall run).
Justice — Enoch Trowell 75 pass from Marquez (pass failed).
Nederland — Abendroth 23 pass from Jay. Rasdall (Jay. Rasdall run).
Nederland — Abendroth 6 pass from Jay. Rasdall (pass failed).
Nederland — Jay. Rasdall 4 run (Tucker Carr kick).
Nederland — Austin O’Melia 12 run (Carr kick).
Justice — Kirkland 28 fumble recovery (run failed).
Nederland — Caleb Pugmire 63 kickoff return (pass failed).
RUSHING — Justice: Julio Marquez 7-(minus-9), David Briones 3-4. Nederland: Ken Shankey 7-42, Austin O’Melia 8-63, Jaylan Rasdall 6-49, Quin Kuechenmeister 2-29, Michael Wood 1-(minus-1), Adler Mueller 1-5.
PASSING — Justice: Marquez 11-30-0-180, Travis Kirkland 0-1-0-0. Nederland: Jay. Rasdall 10-23-2-121.
RECEIVING — Justice: Joseph Middaugh 3-17, Kirkland 3-79, Enoch Trowell 4-83, Briones 1-1. Nederland: Jack Abendroth 9-118, Kuechenmeister 1-3.