Cedaredge fans excited about title game

Shredded holes, those gnarled stories written by past snags and collisions and pancake blocks, dotted his blue and white Cedaredge jersey. His speech quivered. The eyes had produced a layer of shine. Buried for 20 years, the relics of past games and teammates were dug up and dusted and somehow shone again.

Had No. 81 just come off the football field last Saturday in Cedaredge High School’s 16-12 Class 1A state semifinal victory at Hotchkiss?

“Even for someone who’s a 20-year alumni,” Ronnie Autry said, “it’s like I was right back on the field playing with them. I was a lot more excited than I thought I would be.”

Small-town high school football did the excavating. The images were the same. Blue and white uniforms playing on the field surrounded by mountains and Grand Mesa. But now Cedaredge is in the 1A state championship for the first time since 1993. With their 1 p.m. kickoff today at Buena Vista, the Bruins could win the school’s first state title.

Expect a big following to travel. Fans and alumni know all this can happen once in a football program’s lifetime. The Bruins, after a few years of losing seasons, are going for a state title.

Small-town success ushers guys like Autry 250 miles from Denver to watch Hotchkiss against Cedaredge in a semifinal. Line up Autry at wide receiver — in his own mind. Let him run a route, take one to the “house.” Let a sweet, proud tear slip and celebrate when he hits the goal line the same time as Bruins senior wide receiver Cade Wasser.

“They’re just living vicariously through us now,” Wasser said, “and it’s just a great feeling. This town, we’ve been together. The feeling of togetherness — it’s just sweet.”

Think the fans and alumni don’t play a part? It’s not just an ineffective delusion, a hopeless, sad attempt to reenact teenage emotions. They’re a mass of reserves.

Cedaredge quarterback Trent Walker made his first start of the season at quarterback against Hotchkiss, replacing Dante Markley, who was recovering from concussion symptoms. Walker was mostly accurate and poised; he played like he’d started all along.

“Everyone wearing blue on the sideline,” Walker said, “and as fans — I have so many people behind me.”

Fans behind him. He wasn’t alone. Didn’t ever feel that way. Check out No. 81 in the stands — he was a wide receiver for Cedaredge. Graduated in 1991. Ronnie Autry. Saw more former classmates at the Hotchkiss game than at his high school reunion.

It’s just football. Yet when it’s small-town glory, everything comes back. What an interception you had that one game — man, you could hear so much that coach told his quarterback. All those legendary teams. The inventory items.

“My old principal was here,” Autry said. “He asked if the jersey was an inventory item, and I was like, ‘Yeah, it never made it back on the shelf.’ “

Guys like Autry are never done playing.

Small-town football doesn’t end at graduation.

You never know when, a couple decades later, you might be called on to go back in the game.

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