DHS football

Bearcat senior Keltan Ewing gets in on the tackle as a Bronc picks up some decent yards in the fourth quarter. The Cat defense struggled early but came back in the second half with renewed energy and determination.

Bearcat fourth quarter rally not enough to overcome deficit and advance to title game

Coming into Friday afternoon’s match-up against Jackson, the Cats had the best run defense in 3A, and it wasn’t particularly close all season. The Cats front seven buried their opponents on a weekly basis and were allowing just 22 yards per game.

So it came as a surprise when the Broncs, the hottest passing team in the league, repeatedly found seams on the ground in the first half en route to a 28-20 victory in the 3A football semifinals last Friday.

“After this many years of doing it, you know that the sun comes up after a loss,” said coach Jay Rhoades. “There’s only one team in each classification that’s really happy at the end of the year. . . I feel really fortunate getting to work with this group of kids and it was a really fun year.”

Jackson seemed to have all the answers early, running outside and in with their running backs and quarterback Sadler Smith and picking up chunks on the ground. A 13-yard touchdown run by Jackson running back Brody Hasenack capped a 14-play drive to open things, but the Broncs missed the extra point attempt. Hasenack ran wild on the day, putting up 174 yards on the ground on 29 carries and Smith added another 91. In total, Jackson ran farther than all other Cats opponents combined through the entire season. Douglas allowed 155 yards in its first nine games; Jackson rushed for a total of 265 on Friday.

Not content with an early lead after marching 80 yards down the field, the Broncs tried an onside kick to catch the Cats off guard, but it backfired spectacularly when Douglas jumped on the ball and two plays later, senior running back Keltan Ewing bounced over, around and through what seemed to be the entire Broncs defense for a 61-yard touchdown run. Junior Jackson Hughes knocked the extra point through and just like that Douglas reclaimed the momentum and the lead.

“They over-pursued and Keltan hit a wall,” Rhoades said, “but he spun out of it and found a seam and he took it.”

Jackson drove down to the Douglas 35-yard line, but the defense appeared to be poised to make a big stop after blowing up a Smith run in the backfield. Faced with a 4th-and-7 deep in Douglas territory, Smith showed off his arm strength, connecting with receiver Sam Scott for 13 yards on the 4th down play and two plays later, Smith outran the Cats defense on the edge to put the Broncs up by five.

Both offenses stalled in the second, but with less than a minute to play in the half, junior Luke Skeen got a big interception that gave the Cats the ball back on the Jackson 39. Hughes found senior Rylan Wehr for a big 27-yard completion as time expired but was short of the end zone. A personal foul on the play gave the Cats an untimed down, a final chance to score that turned into a flea flicker that was batted away by Jackson.

“It kind of took us the first half to figure them out,” said senior lineman Kyle Logar. “Coach said we were doing well . . .We just had to keep doing what we do best.”

What the Cats do best is play defense, but the Broncs kept pounding the rock in the third, relying on Smith’s mobility and the threat of him throwing it deep to keep the Cats off balance. Jackson rattled off 16 straight points in the third to go up 28-7. Hughes connected with Wehr again to bring the ball all the way to the Jackson 16-yard line, but the Broncs pass defense — and a stiff breeze — did just enough to keep the Cats from advancing any further.

Down three scores at the start of the fourth quarter, it would have been easy for the Cats to throw in the towel, but as they have shown all season, they just aren’t built that way.

A bad handoff by Jackson opened the fourth with a bang for the Cats and two plays later Hughes launched a beautiful rainbow pass to senior Devin Kowlok. Kowlok snagged the toe-tapping grab as he fell out of the back of the end zone and suddenly the Cats had the momentum on their side and 11 minutes to show why they had gotten this far in the first place. To get the win, though, they’d have to beat Jackson at their own game.

“After that fumble, I think we all realized we could come back and it gave us the momentum to fight back a little bit,” Logar said.

Penalties punished the Broncs in the fourth, giving up big yardage to the Cats and forcing a long fourth down. Hughes got taken down by the face mask on the next Cats drive and three plays later launched another ball over Wehr’s shoulder just across the goal line to bring Douglas within a touchdown with 8:39 to play for a spot in Laramie.

Another fumble by Jackson gave the Cats the ball in great position to tie the game and with all the momentum. Starting from the Jackson 44-yard-line, Hughes threw a strike to Wehr but the offense fizzled after that, with Hughes throwing three straight incompletions. A perfect swing pass to Ewing turned into a 24-yard gain for the Cats, but it was erased by a penalty.

Mental errors piled up for the Cats, and though the defense played well enough to give Douglas a chance with just over a minute to play, a late holding penalty that erased a 20-yard Hughes scramble proved to be the final nail in the coffin and the Cats fell in a heartbreaker.

“Every year, I ask the seniors to leave their mark on our program,” Rhoades said. “This group of seniors really left a love of football, they enjoyed playing football and playing football with each other.”

Rhoades also offered his thanks to the community and administration for their support over the year. Douglas finishes their season with just two losses on the year, going 8-2 overall and undefeated in the 3A East.

“I’m proud of our defense and I’m proud of the family we became,” Logar said. “Everybody has each other’s backs out there.”

Stat roundup

Rushing:

● Keltan Ewing: 14 carries for 115 yards (8.2 yard average), TD

● Jackson Hughes: 12 carries for 85 yards (7.1 yard average)

Passing:

● Hughes: 8-for-27, 164 yards, 2 TD

Receiving:

● Rylan Wehr: 5 catches for 90 yards (18 yard average), TD

● Koby Case: 1 catch for 49 yards

● Devin Kowlok: 1 catch for 21 yards, TD

Defense:

● Luke Skeen: 13 TKL (3 solo, 1 TFL), INT

● Ewing: 7 TKL (1 solo) INT

● Carter Archuleta: 20 TKL (3 solo)

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