LONGMONT — The Skyline Falcons were eliminated by the Ponderosa Mustangs 16-13 in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs Saturday afternoon.
The matchup was a rematch of last year’s state semifinal game that Skyline won 32-0, but this year’s playoff matchup came far earlier and did not end up the way it had hoped.
“I didn’t think we were done any favors with this draw,” Skyline coach Mike Silva said. “I think Ponderosa and us are two of the top five teams in the state and had to play in the first round.”
What hurt Skyline in Saturday’s loss was the limited number of chances it had to put points on the board and the number of times it came up empty with those opportunities.
Ponderosa scored on its first offensive drive, a long 11-play drive that went 85 yards and killed five minutes off the clock in the first quarter. Two more scoring drives were put together in the second quarter, one being a 13-play drive that ended in a field goal and the last before the half taking six plays and ending with a touchdown pass from Jack Hanenburg to Kolton Miller.
The three touchdown drives helped Ponderosa possess the ball for 15 minutes in the first half. Then when Skyline had the football, the Mustangs focused on taking the passing game away and forced the Falcons to run the football more, making them kill the clock and shorten the game, also.
“That was part of their game plan,” Silva said. “(Ponderosa) put a bunch of guys in coverage and forced us to run. They were able to run the ball more successfully than I thought they would, too, and that ran the clock. They shortened the game, and that’s what I think they wanted to do.”
The lone mistake in the first half was an interception by Grayden Bridwell of Skyline that gave the Falcons a short field in the second quarter and led to a Chase Silva touchdown pass to Hayden Robison.
In the second half, Ponderosa did not shorten the game with its offense. Skyline came out aggressive on defense and forced a pair of three-and-outs to start the half. The Mustangs would only have possession for about 9 minutes in the second half and did not score.
“It was more about energy at pivotal times,” Silva said. “It cost us in the first half, but that was the main adjustment (in the second half).”
But the long possessions that Skyline had in the second half were not finishing with enough points to get the comeback win.
The Falcons put together a 20-play drive that started with 7:36 left in the third quarter and carried over into the fourth. Short runs from Chase Silva, Michael McKrola and Finn Torello moved the chains, but the drive stalled inside the red zone and Skyline had to attempt a 42-yard field goal by Gabriel Sosa. The long attempt was short, and the lengthy possession was fruitless.
Their next chance with the football did not come until just under four minutes remained, though Skyline did score with Silva finding Bridwell for a touchdown pass to cut the lead down to 16-13. A stop after a failed onside kick gave them a final possession with less than a minute to go, but Silva threw a fourth-down interception to seal the win for Ponderosa.
“I still think it would have been a one-score game, whether it would have finished in the 20s or the teens,” Silva said.
Chase Silva threw for 137 yards and two touchdowns, and the Falcons ran for 117 yards in the loss. Ponderosa was led by its ground game that featured Hanenburg and backs Cael Porter and Mikee Barker, who combined for 129 total yards.
While the loss is a tough one and the season ends much earlier than last year’s run to the state championship game, Silva told his team to appreciate the turnaround from their 1-2 start to win the Longs Peak League title and the battle they displayed on Saturday to finish the year.
“Nobody gave us a chance considering what we lost last year and nobody gave us a chance when we were 1-2,” Silva said. “But we went 8-2 with a win over Loveland and a conference championship. That’s huge.”