Coronado battles to state finals, seeks 1st grid title

       It hasn't been easy for Coronado in the state 3A high school football playoffs, and that's not likely to change Saturday, Nov. 30 when the Cougars vie for the title against the Silver Creek Raptors, who are the defending state champions and will also get to host the game.

Coronado linebacker Ryan Strabala (56) celebrates as his teammates stop a two-point conversion attempt short of the goal line to ensure a 28-27 victory over the Classical Academy Nov. 23 at Garry Berry Stadium. The Cougars will face Silver Creek for the state 3A football championship Nov. 30 in Longmont.
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       The opening kickoff will be at 1 p.m. at Everly-Montgomery Stadium in Longmont.
       Coronado (12-1) earned its chance after staving off the Classical Academy, 28-27, in a wild finish to their semifinals set-to Nov. 23 at Garry Berry Stadium. Leading 28-14 with less than five minutes to go, the Cougars gave up two touchdowns, the second with 20 seconds left. But they stuffed TCA's two-point conversion try, then ran out the clock, leading to an exuberant celebration.
       In Coronado's 43-year history, this will be only the second time that the school has played for a state football title (the Cougars were state runnerups in 1982). Other than that, the school has made the playoffs only two other times (1990 and 1991), and as recently as 2011 had failed to win a game.
       Coronado Coach Bobby Lizarraga said his players are happy, but not starry-eyed about getting this far. “They're riding Cloud 8; it's not quite 9 yet,” he quipped.
       The TCA contest was played in frigid conditions, with temperatures in the 20s worsened by a wind chill. But the coldest news was an X-ray report the day before the game that Austin Micci, Coronado's top running back, had suffered a fractured ankle (not just a sprain, as initially thought) the previous week against Roosevelt. The speedy junior had racked up big yardage and two TDs in each of Coronado's initial playoff wins - first over Rifle (34-31) and then Roosevelt (29-27) in the quarterfinals.
       But junior backfield mate Isaah Duvall, who had missed most of the Roosevelt game with an injury of his own, came up big against TCA with 144 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
       His performance exemplified the team attitude Coronado has shown this season, Lizarraga said. “When one goes out, the others step up for him.”
       In addition, the coach was proud of the positive attitude shown by the injured Micci. “He's heartbroken, but he stood up like Superman, and told the other guys, 'Don't worry about it; do what you have to do to make it happen.' So they were out to pick him up.”

Normally a wide receiver on offense, Coronado senior Sam Smith breaks through the middle of the line for 18 yards on his one carry of the day during the fourth quarter of the state semifinal game against the Classical Academy Nov. 23. Smith also caught three passes from his twin brother Joah, including a 32-yarder for a second-quarter touchdown.
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       As far as the Coronado coach knows at this point, no player got hurt badly enough against TCA to have to miss the state championship game.
       The Silver Creek Raptors (10-2) are a “pass-heavy” team, according to Lizarraga, with good size, though not as much as Roosevelt had. Roosevelt is the only common opponent between the state championship opponents, the Rough Riders having handed the Raptors a regular season loss, 23-20 Oct. 18. The other Silver Creek regular-season loss was to Frederick, 31-28, Sept. 27. Frederick was eliminated by Roosevelt in the first round of the playoffs.
       Leading the stats for Silver Creek are quarterback Ben Sjobakken, with a 64.3 passing percentage and 2,627 yards on the season; and running back Anthony Kasper with 1,172 yards rushing and an average of 8.1 yards per carry.
       Coronado's only loss was 24-20 in its final regular season game to Discovery Canyon, which was then the state's top-ranked 3A team. DC had also handed TCA one of its two regular-season losses (the other had been to Coronado).
       The TCA game was played in frigid conditions at Garry Berry Stadium on the east side, with occasional wind gusts playing a factor. Lizarraga said he thought it might have hurt TCA more, because of its greater reliance on an air attack. “We knew we were going to pound the ball,” he explained.
       The Cougars fell behind at first (as they had in both previous playoff games), but tied the score at 7-7 in the first quarter on a six-yard TD run by Corbin Bender. A 32-yard pass from Joah Smith to his twin brother Sam - one of only nine passes he threw on the day - gave Coronado a 14-7 halftime lead.
       Duvall scored on a one-yard burst in the third quarter to extend Coronado's lead to 21-7. TCA closed it to 21-14 later in the third, but Duvall broke free down the left sideline for a 73-yard TD run early in the fourth. Following place-kicker Jose Perez' fourth extra-point kick of the day, Coronado seemed to have an insurmountable lead, based on the elements and the effectiveness of the Cougar defense.
       But TCA quarterback Jantzen Ryals heated up late, passing for two scores while his team's defense stifled Coronado through the rest of the fourth quarter, even forcing a turnover on a fumble.
       After the touchdown that made the score 28-27, it seemed likely that the Titans would kick the extra point to send the game into overtime. But Lizarraga and his assistant coaches were yelling from the sidelines to watch for the fake, so he said his team was ready for it when Ryals took a shotgun snap out of an apparent kick formation. The TCA quarterback couldn't find a receiver, and when he tried to run to the right, he was stopped about two yards short of the goal line by a swarm of Cougars, including Duvall, Bender, Melvin Hardy, Devon Baker and Sam Smith.

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