No. 28 Mica Mountain and No. 25Pueblo High needed wins on Friday to keep hope of making the 4A state playoffs alive.
With both teams needing to win out in the regular season, the stage was set for a big-game atmosphere.
That is exactly what the fans in attendance witnessed.
The big-game vibe started when Mica Mountain (4-4, 3-0 4A Kino) entered Saturnino “Curly” Santa Cruz Stadium.
As the Thunderbolts ran onto the field, sophomore George Flores, who carried the Mica Mountain flag, went to midfield where he spiked it into the Warrior logo.
The large Homecoming crowd wasn’t happy and let Mica Mountain hear it.
The Thunderbolts weren’t fazed by the crowd reaction and lined up for a little intimidation chatter during Pueblo’s entrance.
Mica Mountain won the coin toss and elected to receive. Two plays later, junior tight end Kason Colbert took the handoff and ran for a 51-yard touchdown putting the Thunderbolts up 7-0 with 10:49 left in the first quarter.
Pueblo (4-4, 0-3) evened the score at 7-7 when senior quarterback Diego Ramirez hit senior wide receiver Miguel Moreira in the end zone.
Defense took over in the second quarter with both teams getting big stops taking a 7-7 tie into halftime.
At the 8:41 mark in the third quarter, the Warriors took the lead 14-7.
The scoring drive was aided by penalties called on Mica Mountain culminating in a touchdown run by senior running back Anthony Carpenter.
Pueblo’s scoring drive looked something like this — Run, offsides on the defense, pass, horse collar on Mica Mountain, run, incomplete pass, roughing the passer on Mica Mountain and touchdown run by Carpenter.
Mica Mountain had five encroachment penalties during the game and a total of 145 penalty yards assessed.
Thunderbolt head coach Pat Nugent on his young team’s mental errors during the game: “Pueblo had a great game tonight. We made way too many penalties today, two turnovers, couple of big blown pass coverages, but you know, we hung in there and did enough just to win the game. We will take the win, but it was awful close. We don’t want to see too many of those.”
Nugent continued, “We are still a very young team you know; we’ve got the four seniors playing and we are young. I was proud of the boys. We made a lot of mistakes, but we figured out a way to win and that’s important for a program to learn. We don’t know how to do that yet with all the young kids that we are playing with. Tonight was important where we didn’t play our best football. We had a lot of mental mistakes that really hurt us, yet we came out with a win and right now that is all we can do is keep moving forward in the region and keep working for next week.”
Mica Mountain tied the game at 14-14 behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Jayden Thoreson, who hit junior wide receiver Jack Bradley for a 15-yard touchdown.
Thoreson ended the game 19 of 22 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
After the game, Thoreson reflected on the game plan and team execution.
“Came out wanting to get the ball to the outside as we did on the first drive got out to number No. 4 Devin Heyward on a ‘three’ route. Iit worked and ran up the middle to No. 44 Kason. Obviously, it worked really well. That was the whole game plan all night. The second drive they kind of shut us down and we could move the ball, but we just had mental mistakes that just shut us down.”
Thoreson added, “We went to halftime (and) didn’t really have a talk because we knew we were doing the right stuff. We were just making small mistakes that were holding us back. We came out after half (and) just played great as a team. Moved the ball down the field, scored and played great defense.”
On Pueblo’s next possession, the Warriors moved the ball but an interception by Mica Mountain junior cornerback Will White put an end to the drive.
Mica Mountain capitalized on the turnover. The Thunderbolt offense went 85 yards on three plays, resulting in a touchdown pass from Thoreson to Jonah Garcia. The extra-point try was blocked. Mica Mountain led 20-14 with 10:41 remaining in the game.
A high snap on a punt by Pueblo resulted in a safety for Mica Mountain, adding the Thunderbolts’ lead – 22-14.
A strong red zone stop on fourth-and-2 gave the ball back to the Warriors on their own 29-yard line with under three minutes to go.
Colbert made an interception to end the Warrior comeback.
Pueblo head coach Jake Allen was disappointed in the loss but expressed his pride in his team and the way they fought and played against the Thunderbolts.
“We knew this was going to be the third game of a hard three-game stretch,” he said. “Vista Grande and CDO were both incredibly physical. We came in to tonight without our leading tackler and leading rusher, so we were banged up in those two games. We really had to kind of redo everything as far as game planning.
“We knew we had to throw the deep ball tonight which we were successful with and then we really felt we had to stop their run game. It didn’t feel like the game plan didn’t work. It just felt like we were one play away from making it a really fun overtime ending so I’m just really proud of our boys.”
Allen spoke about the connection between Ramirez and receiver Andre Blanton.
“I’ve been here three years and they were both sophomores on varsity my first year,” he said. “They were both starters. I’ve been lucky enough to work with those two for three years now and they read each other like you hear about in the NFL.
“They give a look, and they know the route and leverage. They are just exciting to watch. They got each other’s back and they trust each other. They are a fun duo to coach.”
*Pueblo stat leaders:
Diego Ramirez — 10-25 160 yards 1 TD and 2 interceptions
Anthony Carpenter — 17 Carries, 65 yds and 1 TD
Andre Blanton – 4 catches for 82 yards
Miguel Moriera – 4 catches for 43 yards and 1 TD
Max Espinoza – 5 solo tackles, 4 assist
Dylan Carrillo – 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 solo tackles and 4 assist
Amare Cypriano – 1 interception
*Mica Mountain stat leaders:
Jayden Thoreson – 19 of 22 for 270 total yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions
Conner Hangarner – 7 rushes for 43 yards
Kason Colbert – 9 rushes for 87 yards, 1 TD and 2 interception
Jonah Garcia – 8 catches for 142 yards and 1 TD
Jack Bradley – 5 catches for 74 yards and 1 TD
*The game day experience at Pueblo feels like a fiesta/party. As you enter, upbeat music greets you. There are multiple food booths with choices ranging from Raspandos to your normal football food. Lots of energy throughout the stadium. It’s a must visit.