Cedaredge holds off Hotchkiss to advance to 1A title game
HOTCHKISS — A blue swarm exploded along the east sideline Saturday, the celebration stewing under the skyline of Coal Mountain and Landsend Peak, because Cedaredge High School, without its starting quarterback, had just advanced to the Class 1A state high school football championship.
Two schools separated by seven miles as the crow flies — Cedaredge and Hotchkiss — met up in the state semifinal, itself a feat.
But now No. 3 seed Cedaredge, with its 16-12 win over No. 10 Hotchkiss, will go for its first state championship win at No. 1 Buena Vista, likely on Saturday.
Trent Walker, with six regular-season pass attempts, had replaced Cedaredge starting quarterback Dante Markley, a passing and running threat who suffered a concussion in the Bruins’ quarterfinal win over Monte Vista. Markley was not cleared by doctors to play in the semifinal.
But Walker, a 6-foot-5 junior, completed a pair of two-point conversion passes to Cade Wasser. Hotchkiss (9-3) did not score on its pair of two-point-conversion attempts. And according to the scoreboard, that was the difference.
The win unearthed something new about suddenly surging Cedaredge (11-1), which has an 11-game win streak — its talent runs as deep as the line of blue-clad fans who wrapped the end zones.
“I have so many people behind me,” said Walker, who completed 9 of 18 passes for 88 yards. “Everyone wearing blue on the team, and the fans, we have so many people. I don’t have to do it all by myself.”
Said Markley, who wore his jersey with jeans: “We’re like Chinese handcuffs. The more you pull us apart, the tighter we get.”
In the first quarter, Hotchkiss suffered a major loss. At the end of a 37-yard run by Bruins running back Reid Gates, Bulldogs defensive end and tight end Conner Beard suffered a dislocated shoulder, the same shoulder he’d dislocated two years ago during wrestling season and had surgically repaired.
The senior wasn’t just the Bulldogs’ leader in receiving yards (423) and sacks (six).
“He’s our emotional leader,” Hotchkiss coach Zac Lemon said. “It took us awhile to bounce back from that.”
Still, Hotchkiss took a 12-8 lead with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter on a three-yard run by Jacobe Galley.
Cedaredge’s defense, with Peter Wiliamson starting in place of Markley at safety, held Galley, who had been averaging 185 yards rushing per game, to 69 yards. In the fourth quarter, Cedaredge had taken a 16-12 lead, but two Bruins drives that ended with punts of five and 10 net yards gave Hotchkiss starting field position at the Cedaredge 35- and 45-yard lines, respectively.
On the Bulldogs’ first short-field drive, Cedaredge forced a punt.
“For them to hold there,” Cedaredge coach Brandon Milholland said, “that’s unbelievable.”
On the second short drive, with four minutes remaining, Hotchkiss fumbled the ball away.
“It almost seemed like we had momentum,” Lemon said, “then we give it right back.”
The Cedaredge defense needed only the 16-12 lead provided by Carter Wasser’s two-yard touchdown run and Walker’s two-point-conversion pass to Cade Wasser.
It also needed a leaping catch by Gates on that game-winning drive. On third down and 10 at the Cedaredge 44, Walker lofted a ball toward the sideline. Gates tried to catch up.
“I wasn’t so sure about it,” Gates said.
Gates placed sixth in the high jump during last spring’s Class 3A state track and field championships. This time, he needed a long jump. Sprawling face-first, and in midair, Gates snagged the ball and slid out of bounds for a 24-yard reception.
“Reid never gives up; he’s such a hard player,” Walker said. “He’ll sacrifice his body to make the play. He cares about this team and this town so much.”
So does Markley. But he must be cleared by doctors Monday to play this weekend. Considering the Cedaredge football program has not won a state championship, Markley couldn’t help but announce his status Saturday.
“It’s going to happen,” he said. “I’m not going to miss the state championship.”