In the state quarterfinal game that neither side deserved to lose, the Mancos Bluejays ended its season with a heart-wrenching 34-28 loss to Fowler high School on Saturday.
Bluejays senior Anthony Medina scored two touchdowns, made two interceptions and forced one fumble during the fiercely physical and competitive game at Mancos High School.
"I'm going to remember the men that we turned into since we were in the third grade," said Medina as tears flowed down his face after the loss. "Coach Allen (Matthews) has taken us from little boys to what we are now. My whole football career, I will never forget him or any of my other coaches."
While Mancos ultimately ended up on the wrong side of the emotional contest, the Bluejays played strongly from the start, scoring two touchdowns in the first seven minutes to seize a 14-0 lead.
The first of the team's scores came on Fowler's second offensive possession when Medina sprinted up from his safety position and forced a fumble with a crushing hit in the hole. Bluejays' junior Christian Cova immediately scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 33 yards down the right sideline for the score.
"You just gotta knock them down the first couple plays of the game," Medina said. "I feel like that's what we did, and that's what (our first touchdown) play was all about."
After Fowler was forced to punt on its ensuing offensive possession, the Mancos offense struck again when Medina took a hand-off off left tackle and showcased his game-breaking speed with a 69-yard touchdown run to put his team ahead 14-0 with 5:48 left in the opening quarter.
An interception by Medina on his team's 2-yard line put a stop to what looked like a promising Fowler drive, but the Grizzlies quickly regained their composure when senior defensive end Johnathan Mobbley recovered a Breccen Morelli fumble in the Mancos end zone.
Fowler tied the score at 14-14 four minutes later when junior running back Joshua Daniels raced into the end zone from 10 yards out on a play that caused Fowler coach Mark Van Sickle to excitedly scream to his players, "Remember who we are."
Badly in need of a momentum-shifting play, the Bluejays again put the ball in the hands of Medina on their ensuing possession, and the senior responded by breaking two tackles on a well-designed screen pass running 57 yards down the right sideline for the score.
A touchdown by Fowler junior Jackson Bates on an option play and an ensuing two-point conversion put Fowler ahead 22-20 with 6:40 left in the first half, and an 18-yard rushing score by Luke Bitter on an option play made the score 28-20 with 1:16 left in the first half.
After a scoreless third quarter that featured numerous hard hits by defenders on both sides, Fowler ignited its small contingent of fans early in the fourth quarter when Daniels swept around the right side and scored to put his team ahead 34-20 with 9:28 left.
Far from finished, however, the Bluejays responded seconds later when junior Colt Fury fielded a squib kick and carried several defenders up field before lateraling the ball to Cova, who raced 60 yards down the left sideline for the score with 9:12 left in the contest.
"It wasn't planned, we just needed some momentum, and (the lateral) was there," Cova said. "Colt (Fury) is a high IQ player and he made a great play."
As the game hung in the balance during the final eight minutes, Mancos drove to Fowler's 20 yard line with less than five minutes left, but its drive stalled when Morelli was intercepted by Braxton Bates in the Fowler end zone.
"We were just trying to pass the ball," Cova said. "It was an interception, but it wasn't on Breccen. It was a really good defensive play."
Although the Mancos defense stood tall one last time and stopped Fowler on downs with less than a minute to go, a desperation pass by Morelli with 15 seconds left was picked off to seal the game.
With tears streaming down their faces, Mancos players exchanged handshakes with Fowler players before both teams joined in a prayer circle to give thanks for a game not soon to be forgotten.
"Just the bond that I've created with all of my really close friends who I've played football forever, I'll never forget that," Medina said.
With the loss, Mancos is now eliminated from the eight-man playoffs and will conclude its season with a 9-2 record overall. Fowler improves to 11-0 on the year and will move on to face Pikes Peak Christian, which upset Sanford, on Saturday afternoon.