Shrull: Sweet season, sour finish
It was a gutsy, determined effort.
But once the playoffs begin, only one team departs the field smiling and satisfied.
Daniel Van Hoose ran, caught passes, threw passes, returned kicks, tackled beastly running backs and in the end, his face showed the fatigue of a hard-fought game. It also showed the pain that comes with losing a playoff game.
“We knew coming in this would be the biggest game of the year. But we approached every game like this one but it’s the playoffs, the elite eight carries a lot of intensity,” Van Hoose said. “We really battled. They are a good team.”
Van Hoose finished with 101 yards receiving and had an 85-yard kickoff return for a score. A lot of his plays was filling in for the injured Kyle Fineran, who had to watch the game on crutches with a knee injury.
The 36-28 loss to No. 2 Chatfield left the Fruita Monument team frustrating and disappointed but the Wildcats came a long ways in the season.
“It was a stressful season, “Van Hoose said with a little smile. “But we stuck in there and knew what we needed to do to get better. We came to work every Monday and I think we did a pretty good job.”
The Wildcats did a great job. Starting the season 0-2, then 1-3, these Wildcats had to regroup or the season would be a bust.
As Todd Casebier gathered his team after the loss on Saturday, he recognized the seniors and captains for keeping the team focused through the bad and the good.
Casebier then told the underclassmen to find those seniors and “hug ‘em up.”
They did just that, and so did coach Casebier, who pulled senior linebacker Ty Bird into a hug and thanked him.
Bird mingled with teammates, looking lost, not sure what to do. It was his final game in a Fruita uniform and he didn’t want it to end.
He was an animal on the field and the guy who kept the team fired up on the sidelines. It wasn’t the way he wanted it to end but he had fun.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” Bird said. “The loss was awful and it hurts but this was a fun game, we have a great team and I love that we fought together today.”
Maybe only in football will a player use the words “fun,” “awful” and “hurts” in the same sentence. But that is playoff football.
The Wildcats did virtually everything right. They battled, they were physical, they made big plays, they never gave up, even when they were down 30-14, and they played as a team for every second of the game.
That was the good. But the bad and the ugly was really what decided this game — three costly first-half turnovers.
It happens and it’s awful and it hurts.
It was the seniors and the four senior captains — Van Hoose, Fineran, Bird and Keaton Kerstetter — who were responsible for keeping the team from packing it in early in the season.
“At 0-2, I saw heads dropping and the motivational level was going down,” Kerstetter said. “Then our team just came back up.”
As he glanced at the field where he played his final game for Fruita Monument, the senior linebacker nodded.
“I’m beyond proud. I’m more proud than I’ve ever been of any team I’ve played on,” he said. “To be 1-3 at one point and to then come all the way to here, is just amazing.”
Bird agreed: “The seniors really kept everybody together and everybody bought into the system and we fought together as one team.”
It was a tough, physical battle and Chatfield earned the right to play another week.
Maybe a competitor summed up the Wildcats’ determination best.
Dalton Keene, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound fullback/linebacker, who is headed to Virginia Tech next year, said Fruita was one heck of a tough team.
“They are a good really team. I have a lot of respect for them,” Keene said. “We knew they were going to be physical and they were. Those three turnovers just killed them.”
Nothing hurts like losing in the playoffs. But respect is earned and the Wildcats earned it on Saturday.
The Fruita Monument Wildcats came close and fought to the end. But it wasn’t to be.
But going from 0-2, then 1-3, to almost knocking out the No. 2 team in Class 4A?
Not a bad season.
Saturday’s game hurt but the Wildcats turned an awful start into a great season. It just wasn’t the ending they envisioned.