BOULDER — The opening drive of Fairview quarterback Bekkem Kritza’s high school career flashed certain moments of brilliance, revealing the kind of skill set that bubbles in the anticipation of what could be. Teasing of the possibilities to come.
It also showed what would be the nerves of any freshman in this position — a scene around him perhaps supersized as a ruckus environment of red versus purple was the likes of which Recht Field hasn’t seen in nearly two years.
“It’s not easy for a freshman,” Fairview star wide receiver/defensive back Grant Page said. “A damn-near sold-out crowd, people screaming his name, and he just turned 15. It just shows his maturity. He zoned it out, made plays and helped us win against a very good Boulder team.”
Kritza threw a touchdown on his opening drive and led the Knights to four first-half scores in his Friday Night Lights debut as Fairview went up big against Boulder before needing a late surge to finish off a 42-21 season-opening victory.
The Panthers had quite the comeback brewing.
Led by the defense, Boulder stifled Fairview’s offense out of the break and put together a pair of touchdown drives in the third quarter to shrink a 21-point deficit to 28-21 by the fourth.
Then with just more than 7 minutes to play, Boulder crossed midfield, pushing towards the tying TD, before fumbling — again — one of six turnovers on the night for new football coach Craig Van Patten’s team in Week 1.
From there, Fairview extended its lead to 35-21 on a 40-yard TD run by Cole Nesmith. It then all but sealed things with another fumble recovery on Boulder’s next drive, which was just moments before lightning delayed the final 5:12 of the game by 30 minutes.
After the wait, Kritza had his third passing TD and second scoring connection of the night with fellow-freshman Jordan Rechel.
“All credit to (the defense),” Kritza said. “They made some big stops for us.”
The two teams opened the season to a packed-out house, a long-awaited sight to see following a school year in which fans were limited at high school football games due to the pandemic.
The almost back to normal environment saw long ticket lines well past kickoff. Marching bands, cheerleaders, and a pair of rivaling student sections egging each other back and forth back in the stands, too.
Fairview (1-0) had last played in an opening round defeat in last fall’s postseason, while Boulder (0-1), which opted to play in the spring season, returned after reaching the spring championship game.
The Knights’ win was their 13th straight over the Panthers.
“It’s a special rivalry,” Fairview coach Tom McCartney said. “Boulder had great grit and toughness and showed fire. It was a great football game.”
Kritza took over as starting quarterback following the graduation of Liam O’Brien.
The former Knights QB was a lacrosse star with big-time offers when he finally took over as a senior starter for McCartney’s program in 2020. With just seven games to work with as part of a condensed fall slate, O’Brien cultivated his football stock as he went on to win BoCoPreps.com offensive player of the year. And earlier this month, he committed to the University of Pennsylvania.
A tough act to follow: Kritza proved ready for the challenge.
Coming out throwing — something usually a given in McCartney’s air-frenzied attacks — Kritza admitted he had some jitters and opened with a misfire on his first throw. Then missed again on his third attempt.
But his poise didn’t waver.
Settling in from there, he completed 13 of his next 14 passes with two of them going for scores. His first TD went to Rechel on a 7-yard strike. His other was to Page, the Nebraska commit who dazzled yet again in the Flatirons rivalry, totaling two touchdowns and an interception.
In the teams’ last meeting — before in the pandemic, in 2019 — Page, in something of his ‘hello’ to the wider football world, had a pair of receiving touchdowns and a fumble recovery.
“It’s for the city championship,” Page said. “We know them over there and are boys (with them). And when it comes to city bragging rights, we take that very seriously.”
Declan Culberson rushed for 86 yards and two scores for Boulder as it had its five-game regular season winning streak snapped.
The senior, who led the Panthers in rushing in the spring, scored on a 2-yard push to tie the game at 7-apiece in the opening quarter. The two teams had just traded turnovers in consecutive plays, with Ethan Kunkel setting Boulder up in favorable position with a strip-sack and recovery on the latter of it. Boulder followed with a short three-play TD drive.
Culberson added another short rushing score midway through the third and a 65-yard TD connection from Tristan Langenegger to Luke Zana made it 28-21 late in the frame.
“We preached to stay disciplined and I thought our kids did that,” Van Patten said. “We have a lot to build on for the future.”
Next Friday, Boulder will host Rocky Mountain while Fairview travels to Castle View.