It had been 514 days since Boulder last took the field for a football game. Just a week since the mass shooting at a nearby King Soopers stunned the community.
Welcoming the rebirth of a long-anticipated season while still in mourning is a juxtaposition nobody wanted. But it’s one the Panthers embraced in a 24-14 win over Mountain Range at Christian Recht Field Monday night.
“We got to represent Boulder tonight,” senior quarterback Alvin Rodriguez said. “And we did it in a good way. We got the ‘W’.”
On an evening where student-athletes finally returned to the gridiron amid the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, the victims from the massacre down the road seven days prior took center stage.
Players from both teams knelt along the hashmarks near midfield as tribute to those lives lost prior to kickoff. And in the center of it, Boulder coach Ryan Bishop laid a No. 10 Panthers jersey for the number of people slain March 22.
“It’s the least we could do to honor them,” Bishop said. “It doesn’t make it any easier. But it’s something our team wanted to do. Mountain Range agreed to it. It felt good to do. Very emotional.”
For so many reasons, this season has already been unlike anything ever seen in Boulder.
The Panthers, one of three schools in the area that opted out of the fall football season in favor of spring, were supposed have their first game March 20 against Far Northeast. But it was canceled due to exposure inside the school’s athletics program as quarantine issues from Season B carried over to the football team’s start to Season C.
A year and a half without a touchdown finally came to an end when Rodriguez connected with Ty Chandler on a 23-yard pass with 7:07 remaining in the second quarter. Players mobbed each other in the end zone in celebration.
Rodriguez threw for more than 300 yards and three TDs for the Panthers, while Drake Arthur had six receptions for 152 yards.
After a 66-yard score gave Mountain Range a brief 7-6 lead, the two connected on a 79-yard score late in the half. Arthur, coming off a nice basketball season, hauled in the pass, stiff-armed a defender and sprinted untouched the rest of the way.
The Panthers added to their lead late in the third on a Rodriguez-to-Kayden Cline 12-yard TD. The defense iced it in the fourth with a safety and an interception from Tristan Langenegger.
“In a nutshell, there’s no words to describe what they just did,” Bishop said. “They pulled together with very little preparation. We had our nine days of practice. It was definitely a senior-led win.”
The Boulder football team set up a fundraiser for the victims’ families. Per its Twitter, people can donate via Venmo to @ryanbishop37 with the hashtag “BoulderStrong”.