Cougars roar into state grid semis
Coronado High football kept its remarkable season alive Nov. 16 with a second straight come-from-behind victory in the state playoffs, 29-27 over Roosevelt.
The Cougars (11-1), who had not won that many games in a season before, nor qualified for the playoffs since 1991, will now face the Classical Academy (10-2) in the Division 3A semifinals, needing one more win to play for their first-ever state grid championship.
The game will be at Garry Berry Stadium, off Constitution Avenue, Saturday, Nov. 23 at 1 p.m.
The teams are hardly unfamiliar, having played seven common opponents in the regular season, as well as each other (Coronado won, 16-6, Aug. 29).
However, according to Coach Bobby Lizarraga, the Classical Academy (TCA) was just starting to implement a new offensive scheme at that time, one that emphasizes more passing out of a spread-type set. “I strongly believe we don't know who they are anymore,” he said, “because they're playing so well.”
Jantzen Ryals, the TCA quarterback, has thrown for 1,692 yards and 13 touchdowns and also picked up 208 yards rushing. “They have a decent quarterback who can run, and they always have solid defensive players,” said Lizarraga, who noted that he is studying film of the Titans' last two games, seeking strategies to offset their upgraded attack.
Besides Coronado, TCA's only other loss was to Discovery Canyon. The latter school also handed Coronado its only defeat. But Discovery Canyon (originally the top seed in the playoffs) was upset in the first round.
Coronado started the playoffs as the sixth seed and TCA seventh.
The other semifinal game pits Silver Creek (originally 9th seed) against Delta (originally 13th).
As for his team, the Coronado coach expressed pride in his players' composure - they've come back from 17-0 and 14-0 deficits in their two playoff games - but added the hope that an emphasis on fundamentals in practice this week would help them avoid early mistakes again.
“At this point of the season, it's something that's pretty special to them [the season they've had], so it's nerve wracking,” Lizarraga said. “It takes a while to get those butterflies out of their system.”
A bright spot throughout the season, as well as in both playoff wins, has been Coronado running back Austin Micci. He has season marks of 1,254 yards and 8.6 yards per carry and sprinted to two touchdowns against Roosevelt (initially the playoffs' third seed).
Strong on defense throughout the contest was Devon Baker, with a team-leading 18 tackles, 7 of them unassisted.
Another big score against Roosevelt came when Sam Smith, a two-way player who is not a return specialist, grabbed a short kickoff on a hop, broke a couple of tackles and legged it all the way for a TD. Also huge, according to Lizarraga, was the third-quarter blocked punt by Joseph Hunt, which resulted in a safety and the two-point difference in the score.
Not only did Coronado fall behind to Roosevelt, the game was played on the northern Colorado school's home field in gusting-wind conditions that reduced Coronado's passing attack to just three completions.
In the final moments of the game, Roosevelt mounted a drive deep into Coronado territory. But a pass near the end zone was intercepted by Cougar defensive back Junior York.
“They don't quit,” Lizarraga summarized of his team.
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