Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer
PUEBLO — Boulder football made a bit of a gamble when the team decided to be one of the 12 Class 5A squads to defer their 2020-2021 season from the fall to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Saturday night at Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl Stadium, that wager almost paid off when the fourth-seeded Panthers faced No. 2 Far Northeast for the Season C state football title.
The lightning-fast Warriors, however, got the better of them in the end, 34-0.
“Nobody can ever take this season away from them. Nobody,” head coach Ryan Bishop said. “That’s a hell of a good team. We should learn a lot. We should be proud and hold our heads up high. … At the end of the day, 12 (teams) could have won this state title, any one of the 12 that played. They’re a good team and they play hard.”
It was the program’s first championship game appearance since 1992, after missing out on the playoffs altogether for the past six years. Still, the runner-up trophy proved to be quite the accomplishment for a team whose regular season had been anything but normal.
The Panthers had to cancel their first game due to positive COVID tests. They then moved their second game to a Monday so they could fit in nine practices beforehand. They played again on Friday that same week, then had to reschedule the third game because the opponent had COVID issues. During the final week of the regular season, COVID quarantines canceled the Fort Collins contest and Boulder picked up a matchup against Adams City instead. Topping it off, a second scheduled game against Adams City to end the season was axed.
With each and every setback, the Panthers rose to the occasion as they came out victorious at the end of every week — at least before they met the Warriors.
“I’m so proud of these guys. This is the most fun I think we all have ever had playing football. It was so special to be a part of this team,” senior wide receiver Luke Werner said. “I think it was just our leadership. Our seniors really cared. I think we all just decided that we were tired of what had happened in the past. We just wanted something different because it’s our senior year. We wanted to change things.”
The Panthers got off to a promising start when, on the very first kickoff of the game, Werner returned it for 56 yards. Boulder, however, could not convert on the ideal field placement.
From there on out, the Warrior offense and defense dominated.
Far Northeast’s Gregory Anderson struck first when, on an option from quarterback Andy Martinez, he ran 24 yards to put his team up 7-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter. The Warriors reached the end zone twice more in the first half as Emmit Anderson ran 11 yards and Martinez connected with Gregory Anderson for a 56-yarder to go up 20-0 at the break.
Boulder’s defense started to figure it out in the second half.
Throughout the next 12 minutes of play, the Panthers pressured the Warriors left and right and wouldn’t let them gain another inch, not even in the reddest part of the red zone. In the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, when the Warriors had the ball on 4th-and-inches, the Panther D didn’t just get the stop. They forced quarterback James Aryeetey to fumble, which they recovered on the 10-yard line.
The Warriors, however, got the better of the Panthers just a few minutes later when Gregory Anderson threw to Jaylen Byrd for a 59-yard score to go up 27-0. With 4:20 to go, Leonardo Ramos-Valles took Boulder to task again with a 25-yard touchdown to reach the final score of 34-0.
“The game of football teaches you life,” Bishop said. “This is adversity. You just got knocked down. Are you going to get back up? That’s why we love this game.”