Central falls to Fort Collins
For 31⁄2 quarters Friday night, the Central High School football team was one big play away from taking control of the game.
That big play, however, came from the opposition.
With the Warriors (0-3) trailing Fort Collins 17-13 with 1:19 remaining in the game, the Lambkins were facing a second and long from the Warriors’ 23-yard line.
Running back Stephen Palmier finally broke through Central’s defense, barreling his way into the end zone for the clinching score in the Warriors’ 31-13 loss.
“That was a back-breaker for us — it really was,” Central head coach Vern McGee said. “(Fort Collins) did a nice job on that drive and got big plays when they needed to when we guessed wrong on our blitzes. It goes that way sometimes.”
This is the second straight season the Warriors began 0-3, yet McGee isn’t ready to give up on turning things around.
“You have to walk away proud from this loss,” he said. “If you start to get down on yourself, your season is done. We know that we have to win five games to get into the playoffs. We still have more than five games left and we need to get some wins now.”
Central quarterback Taylor Sanchez, who led the Warriors with 132 yards passing and two touchdowns, echoed his coach’s thoughts on being 0-3.
“It’s real tough,” he said. “I’m not too fond of losing, but I still trust every one of my teammates. Everyone is still working hard, but if things don’t go the right way, then we aren’t going to win. We are all working hard and we have faith in each other.
“A record does say a lot about a team, but at the same time it doesn’t. (Fort Collins) was planning to come here and bully us around, but then we started gaining pace and we showed that we are a good team that can play well. We’re still learning and we’re always going to put up a fight.”
There were signs of dominance from the Warriors, although it took awhile offensively. But when lightning finally struck, it did so in a big way.
After a five-play, 51-yard scoring drive gave Fort Collins a 7-0 lead with 3:44 left in the opening quarter, the Warriors found themselves pinned back on their own 12-yard line. Their previous two drives resulted in a total of nine yards, so being deep in their own territory didn’t seem to be an ideal place to be.
Sanchez, though, picked a great time to lift his team out of its stupor when he hit Kyle Rowe on a 5-yard out pattern. Rowe shook a tackle and raced 88 yards up the sideline for the score. Jake Sebesta’s extra point tied the game at 7-7.
“Taylor makes plays,” McGee said. “He has good leadership, is a fighter and he always seems to find ways to dig us out of a hole.”
The Lambkins took a 17-7 halftime lead, but had to battle through the Warriors’ defense, which was led by defensive end Tyler Hernandez’s two sacks.
“I really liked the way he played today,” McGee said of Hernandez. “The first quarter wasn’t that good for him, but after that I thought he played really well and that’s what we want from him all the time. Once he figures out how to do that, he can be a real force for us.”
With 2:43 left in the third quarter, the Warriors’ offense struck again. Sanchez capped an eight-play, 55-yard drive by floating a pass to Rowe, who was wide open in the corner of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked, but Central cut the lead to 17-13.
Sanchez, who spent much of that drive scrambling to find room to make plays on a bruised ankle, rushed for 30 yards on the drive, including a 23-yard scamper on third and long.
“I don’t think he ever gets tired,” McGee said of Sanchez. “He is a little banged up, but he is one of those guys that will gut it out for you. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
The two teams traded possessions until the 7:47 mark of the fourth quarter, when Fort Collins began a 13-play drive that ended with Palmier’s touchdown run.
Central still had time to work with on its next possession, but Noah Sanchez, Taylor’s brother, took over at quarterback and his second pass was intercepted by Calvin Johnson, who returned it 48 yards for the final margin.
“It’s really tough to lose this one because we came into this game looking for a big win,” Hernandez said. “All we can do is continue to hold our heads high, try again next week. We have to take it a week at a time.”
Despite the loss, Hernandez said the Warrior defense took a big step in the right direction.
“I believe this was a great game for us, especially defensively,” he said. “We did miss a couple key tackles here and there, but for the most part we did a great job. We just have to work on keeping our composure and fight the whole way through the game.”
Central hosts Hinkley on Friday night and McGee said it’s time to start winning games.
“We got to find a way win, that’s all there is to it,” McGee said. “We’re having great practices, have great effort, but we have to learn to take that next step.”