So close!

So close!

Pirates lose, but get to play Prairie again in playoffs

The Cotopaxi High School football team will get another chance to knock off No. 5-ranked Prairie when the Pirates travel back to New Raymer on Nov. 2 to take on the Mustangs in the first round of the 6-man state playoffs.

The Pirates, 6-3 overall and champions of the A-6 South West League, dominated the Mustangs from New Raymer (30 miles north of Fort Morgan) on Saturday despite losing a heart-breaker, 20-12.

Three coverage lapses in the secondary at key times, plus some tough luck at the goal line on offense, proved the difference in the hard-fought nonleague contest.

“We held the ball for most of the game and defensively we stuffed them pretty much every play,” Pirates coach Jeremy Cole said. “The three blown coverages — that’s what killed us. We also had a couple of touchdowns that we didn’t get. Our kids were pretty sure we were over the line.

“Considering that, the kids didn’t lose heart, they kept fighting, kept battling. For a six-man game to go 20-12 is unreal.”

The Mustangs, who beat the Pirates 60-30 in Cotopaxi last season, entered the contest averaging more than 47 points a game.

Cotopaxi took the opening kickoff and drove it down the field on the legs of senior Tyler Sawyer. A roughing the passer penalty helped Cotopaxi on its eight-play, 55-yard drive that chewed up 6:19 on the clock and culminated in a 1-yard TD run by Sawyer.

The Pirates defense then forced a change of possession when it stuffed Mustangs’ Arek Wulf on fourth-and-1 at the Cotopaxi 10-yard line.

Cotopaxi went back to work on offense, this time using the short passing game. Two catches each by junior Collin Whipple and senior Zackary Van Esselstine helped take the Pirates inside the Mustangs’ 10-yard line. Van Esselstine, the team’s center, kept the chains moving throughout the first half as a pass-catcher.

The Pirates had the ball at the Mustangs’ 5-yard line midway through the second quarter, but holding and delay of game penalties thwarted that scoring opportunity.

Cotopaxi’s defense continued to dominate. A sack by Van Esselstine and classmate Liam True forced a three-and-out.

It looked like the Pirates would go into halftime with the 6-0 lead, but Prairie’s Garret Lindell got open down the left sideline and quarterback Mitch Dollerschell lofted a touchdown pass from 21 yards out. A successful kick gave the Mustangs an 8-6 lead with 21 seconds left in the second period.

“In the first half we held them for 19 minutes and we were working like a well-oiled machine,” Sawyer said.

The Pirates picked up where they left off early in the third quarter when Van Esselstine recovered a fumble near midfield on the Mustangs’ second play from scrimmage.

A 27-yard pass from freshman Ty Coleman to Whipple set up a second 1-yard TD run by Sawyer, giving Cotopaxi the lead back at 12-8 with 6:11 left in the period.

Prairie then went on a nine-play drive, but was turned back on fourth-and-four from the Pirates’ 15 when True sacked Dollerschell.

Early in the fourth quarter, Prairie used a fake punt to convert on fourth-and-12 from its own 31-yard line. Moments later on fourth-and-18, Dollerschell hit Arek Wulf, who got behind the Pirates secondary for a 33-yard touchdown reception.

Cotopaxi responded. Sawyer caught a short pass and battled to get a first down on a third-and-10. Sawyer then rambled 35 yards to the Mustangs’ 15. Three consecutive runs by Sawyer moved the ball inside the 2-yard line with around 3 minutes left. Cotopaxi called a timeout to set up the fourth-down play. The ball again went to Sawyer, who was tripped up; the official marked him short of the goal line.

The Pirates defense kept the Mustangs backed up at their own 1-yard line, but on third-and-18, Dollerschell dropped back and threw a long pass to Wulf, who again got behind the Pirates’ secondary for a 79-yard touchdown to seal the game.

“We lost to ourselves,” Cole said. “I keep telling these guys that if we can peak this year, this team is really good. We still have a few things to clean up, a few things to fix going into the playoffs but it is pretty promising. To hold them to 20 points, I don’t think anybody has held them to that.”

It was the last regular season game for four seniors: True, Van Esselstine, Sawyer and Frank Ogden. Cole said each player has meant a lot to him and the program.

“I’ve known Frank for a long time,” Cole said. “He always leaves everything on the field. He’s been a great leader.

“Zackary has been here the last two years and has also been a great leader; he’s just not as vocal as Frank. The best compliment you can get comes from the other coach and the Prairie coach told me, ‘Man, that 22, wow!’

“Tyler has run the ball really hard and has been an extremely influential player on the team. He’s also stepped in on defense, made some big plays and has done it all year long.

“Liam was pretty dominant on the field and he has been so much fun to have on the team. He’s lightened the mood pretty much every single day. Even this week when we were practicing in the snow and it’s 20 degrees and it’s miserable, Liam gets up and his fasemask is plum full of snow, he’s goofing off, just having a good time. We had a pretty good practice I think because of that.”

Prairie 20, Cotopaxi 12

First quarter
Cotopaxi – Tyler Sawyer 1 run. Run failed. 6-0. (3:41)
Second quarter
Prairie – Garrett Lindell 21 pass from Mitch Dollerschell. Andy Long kick. 6-8. (:21)
Third quarter
Cotopaxi – Tyler Sawyer 1 run. Kick failed. 12-8. (6:11)
Fourth quarter
Prairie – Arek Wulf 33 pass from Mitch Dollerschell. 12-14. (7:47)
Prairie – Arek Wulf 79 pass from Mitch Dollerschell. 12-20. (1:50)