Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
HIGHLANDS RANCH — Right from the outset, it never really had the feel of a Fairview game in 2018, or for that matter, in recent years.
The game’s pace was slower, the first half took only 58 minutes and when was the last time an important game for the pass-happy Knights was completed in less than two and a half hours?
So, yes, it was a disappointing end for the Knights on Friday night, a 30-13 loss to host ThunderRidge at Shea Stadium in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
The Knights ended 10-2 and it was their second loss of the season to the Grizzlies, who are 9-2 and will meet perennial power Valor Christian in next week’s quarterfinals. Fairview fell to the Grizzlies 28-24 in Week 3 of non-league.
Of course, Fairview was playing without junior quarterback Aidan Atkinson, who set a Colorado single-season record with 55 touchdown passes before getting hurt in the final week of the regular season — he suffered a dislocated thumb on his throwing hand — and had been leading the nation in passing yards (3,962), but head coach Tom McCartney and the Knights offered no excuses in a fairly positive locker room afterward.
The Knights will lose 18 seniors for next season, but were adamant about doing it again in 2019. And they knew who and what they were up against. They just didn’t handle it.
“I love the way they play,” McCartney said of the Grizzlies. “They were aggressive, they hit and they kept us in front of them. They also had good pressure and they’re talented.”
Fairview, which opened the playoffs last week by beating Denver East 31-7, never led on Friday despite entering the round with a 5A-leading 521 points. The Knights had no answers for ThunderRidge quarterback Ryan Gilmore and running back Spencer Lambert, who combined for three touchdowns and generally dictated the pace of the game. Plus, Grizzlies place-kicker Max Welch booted three field goals.
ThunderRidge scored 10 points in each of the first two quarters to take command and had few tense moments down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Fairview kept at it, but couldn’t make the plays when needed, even when sophomore quarterback Liam O’Brien scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter. The Grizzlies retaliated with one of Welch’s three scoring kicks. A couple of penalties didn’t help.
Plus, the ThunderRidge defense had a big game with pressure up front that led to five sacks of O’Brien and its secondary fared well against Fairview’s touted receiving corps. Henry Blackburn added a late scoring catch, but he and Bryce DesJardins, Matt Greenwald and Ashton Nichols were bottled up or had to settle for short catches.
The Fairview defense was game, but the Grizzlies also were solid up front.
“I think we only punted (five) times all year and we did that (tonight),” said McCartney, who just completed his 26th season heading the Knights, which tops the current list.
He added he was proud of his team that battled injury, particularly O’Brien, who was asked to step in unexpectedly.
And facing what’s probably an underrated ThunderRidge team armed with a shorter roster was a large order.
“We gave it a run, (the Grizzlies) were the better team and my hat’s off to them,” McCartney said.
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ThunderRidge 30, Fairview 13
At Shea Stadium
Fairview 0 0 7 6 — 13
ThunderRidge – Spencer Lambert 8 run (Max Welch kick), 3:46. ThunderRidge – FG Welch 32, 0:13.6.
ThunderRidge – Ryan Gilmore 31 run (Welch kick), 10:29. ThunderRidge – FG Welch 38, 2:25.
Fairview – Liam O’Brien 3 run (Henry Blackburn kick), 5:39. ThunderRidge – FG Welch 39, 1:19.
ThunderRidge – Lambert 55 run (Welch kick), 7:25. Fairview – Henry Blackburn 23 pass from O’Brien (run failed), 1:57.