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Colorado Preps: How 3 football teams pulled off their 2A, 1A, 6-man championships

Kerry Sherman
Colorado Preps
La Junta Tribune-Democrat

Season A came to its conclusion last week, with all seven classifications of football playing their championship games at the DeRose Thunder Bowl on the campus of CSU-Pueblo. Three area teams were involved in those games, with one bringing home top hardware in its respective class.

Stratton/Liberty can't stop Fleming

Six-man got the weekend started on Thursday afternoon with Stratton/Liberty taking on the 2019 champion Fleming in a rematch of last year's thrilling title tilt. The Knighted Eagles' defense overcame a roughing-the-punter penalty to stop Fleming on the first series of the game, and then their offense struck first. Alex Cruz converted a fourth down with a 32-yard touchdown, giving Stratton/Liberty a 6-0 lead less than four minutes into the contest. Braden Wedel's PAT had the Knighted Eagles soaring high, 8-0.

That lead lasted all of two plays when Fleming's quick strike offense hit for a 55-yard run and PAT kick to knot things at 8-8. Cruz put Stratton/Liberty back on top with his second touchdown of the first quarter, capping a long drive with an 11-yard run. Again, the 14-8 lead would not last long. Fleming needed two plays to tie the game with a 50-yard run. The kick put the Knighted Eagles down 16-14 at the end of the quarter.

Fleming would not relinquish the lead again. The Wildcats put together one long drive, and then after coming up with a defensive stop inside their own 1, instant offense struck for the third time in the first half. Their fullback took a quick handoff and raced 79 yards for the dagger. At the half, Stratton/Liberty trailed 28-14. Fleming went on to claim its second straight title and fourth overall, 60-28.

Charlie Clapper finished the day with a team-high 173 yards on 18 carries, and Cruz added 145 more yards on 21 carries. Both runners scored a pair of touchdowns. As a team, the Knighted Eagles ran for more than 350 yards. Fleming countered with 379 yards on the ground. Riggin Williams led the defense with 11 tackles.

Stratton/Liberty loses two seniors to graduation in Tyler Hase and Jaret Lichty. In their high school careers, those two were part of the 2018 championship team and three runner-up squads.

Lamar falls to Eaton in 2A

Next on the big stage was Lamar in Friday afternoon's Class 2A title game against Eaton. The Savages were in their first championship game since 1963 and looking for their first crown since 1961. Eaton won its last championship in 2000.

Not surprisingly, both defenses dominated the early going until Eaton took possession in plus territory on a punt about eight minutes into the game. The Reds capitalized and took a 7-0 lead. After another exchange of punts, the Savages put together a march, getting deep into Eaton territory before the turnover bug bit with an interception. Defense ruled the rest of the half and the teams went into the break with that same 7-0 tally.

Lamar's defense came up with a fumble recovery by Devyn Kincade to stop an Eaton drive early in the third quarter, but the Reds made the next big play on special teams. A blocked punt put their offense in business at Lamar's one-yard line. One play and a kick later, the Reds enjoyed a 14-0 advantage. Eaton's next offensive series saw it push out to a 21-0 cushion, putting the Savages on the brink midway through the third.

Aided by a defensive pass interference, the Savages started their comeback. Zane Rankin capped their ensuing drive with a 30-yard TD. A failed two-point try left them trailing 21-6. They would trim it to 21-14 early in the fourth when Rankin hit Greyden Martinez for a 70-yard TD pass, and then Luis DeLaTorre on the two-point play. The defense would give the Savages a chance to climb all the way back when Blake Buxton pounded on a Red fumble, but Eaton responded with a pick-six to go up 28-14. Unfazed, Rankin connected with Buxton on a 35-yard TD pass on the next series. With one last chance to finish the rally, Lamar lost a fumble in the closing seconds, and Eaton ran out the clock with a 28-21 victory.

Lamar struggled to run the ball effectively, tallying 110 yards on 35 attempts. But Rankin hit on 10 of 20 passes for 218 yards and two scores with two interceptions. It was his fourth game this season with more than 200 yards through the air, and he finished his career with 4,367 yards and 50 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,751 yards and 19 more touchdowns in his career as the three-year starter at QB.

The graduating seniors helped the program to a 15-5 record over the last two years, with a quarterfinal appearance in 2019 to go with this year's runner-up trophy.

Limon gets 3rd consecutive state title, beating Strasburg

Finally, two-time defending Class 1A champion Limon got to try for a third straight title on Saturday morning. The Badgers were facing a familiar foe in Strasburg, whom they had beaten each of the two previous championships.

The Badgers wasted little time in flexing on their opponent, as Kory Tacha, on a sore ankle, raced 77-yards for a touchdown just a few plays into the game. Trey Hines hit the first of his four PAT kicks to give Limon a quick 7-0 lead. After the defense forced a punt, Jeremiah Leeper set up the next Limon score, getting the Badgers to just outside the red zone. Hines ran the QB keeper and scored from 28 yards out, and his PAT had Limon cruising 14-0 not even midway through the first quarter.

Strasburg's best chance to score in the first half came after an interception on Limon's next series put the Indians in possession at the Badger 38. They would drive to the 16 before turning it over on downs. The Badgers would move the ball throughout the half but could not add to their advantage and went to the break leading 14-0.

After forcing a punt to start the third quarter, Limon put together a long, time-consuming drive that burned almost six minutes and covered 70 yards. Leeper finished it with a three-yard run, and Hines made it 21-0 with the kick. The Badgers ended the third on another patented drive that eventually ate another six minutes before losing possession on a fumble. Hines got the ball right back with an interception, and he capped the drive quick with a 51-yard TD pass to Leeper. His kick made it 28-0, and all that was left was for the defense to preserve the shutout, which they did.

Tacha, the defending Class 1A Player of the Year, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the contest, after running for 149 yards, 109 in the first quarter alone. As a team, the Badgers ran for more than 250 yards in the first half.

This is the 20th championship in program history, tops all-time in Colorado history, and the fourth time that the Badgers have won at least three titles.