LAKEWOOD — It was an ending to a football game rarely seen — a walk-off interception returned for a touchdown with zeros on the clock.
“I was sitting my coverage and I saw the running back (Arvada West sophomore Isaiah Ocana) coming out for a screen,” Lakewood senior Ezekiel Sundberg said describing the final play Friday night at Jeffco Stadium. “I focused on coming up to make the tackle, but it was overthrown and I got it. Picked it off and scored.”
Sundberg’s pick-6 from midfield on the final play gave the Tigers a dramatic and improbable 35-29 victory over old Jeffco rival A-West.
“I just told them we couldn’t get the ball thrown over our head,” Lakewood coach Jeff Braun said of what he told his defense with the game tied at 29-29 and six seconds left in regulation time. “(Sundberg) is a baller. He came up and made a play.”
Sundberg sprinted into the end zone with zeros on the clock and the entire group of Tigers raced toward Lakewood’s student section to celebrate the win.
It was a heartbreaking loss for A-West. The Wildcats grabbed a late 29-21 lead after Sundberg was intercepted by senior Jason Jantz. Jantz returned the interception to Lakewood’s 3-yard line and senior Anthony Gallardo scored his second short touchdown run of the night on the next play to give the Wildcats an 8-point lead with 3:49 left in the fourth quarter.
Lakewood didn’t panic needing a touchdown and 2-point conversion after being shutout offensively in the second half. Senior Elzia Sekou capped off a 10-play, 57-yard scoring drive with his second touchdown run of the night to cut the lead to 29-27.
On the same play call as the touchdown, Sekou ran in the 2-point conversation to tie the game at 29-29 with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter.
“I thought (A-West) knew it was coming. It looked pretty clogged before the play,” Sekou said. “Someone cleared a hole and I saw it.”
A-West managed a first down in an attempt to win the game in regulation, but on 4th-and-10 from the Wildcats’ 41-yard line with a few seconds left A-West junior quarterback Johnny Krutsch tried float a screen to Ocana.
“This one is on me,” A-West coach Brad Pyatt said. “At that point in the game I think we were probably stretching it a little bit, but my nature is go for the win. We’ve got playmakers and my kids understand that we go for the win. You never expect that, very heartbreaking for us.”
It was a wild game with a total of eight turnovers. Seven of which were interceptions. Lakewood junior Kegan Hufford had three interceptions alone. Krutch, a three-year starter at quarterback for A-West, finished 20-for-36 for 145 yards and four interceptions.
“He had a good game, even if the stats don’t show it,” Pyatt said of his quarterback. “As an offense we just weren’t clicking. We’ll get going. We aren’t going to quit throwing. I believe in him.”
A-West couldn’t have got off to a better start. On the opening play from scrimmage junior running back Tony Cass broke through the middle of Lakewood’s defense and dashed 80 yards in 13 seconds for a touchdown. Cass gave the Wildcats a 8-0 lead when he ran in a 2-point conversion.
However, the Tigers owned the major of the remainder of the first half scoring 21-unanswered points. Sekou, along with the quarterback tandem of Sundberg and Pierce Holley all had short touchdown runs to give Lakewood a 21-8 lead in the second quarter.
A-West got a much-needed touchdown late in the first half when Cass struck again with a 54-yard touchdown run to trim the Tigers’ lead to 21-15 at halftime. The junior finished with 15 carries for 185 yards.
The Wildcats regained the lead midway through the third quarter. A Tiger turnover at Lakewood’s 11-yard line set up an eventual 1-yard touchdown dive by Gallardo. The Wildcats grabbed the lead back 22-21.
“I’m happy with where we are at as a team this early,” Pyatt said. “We are disappointed, but our season won’t be defined by this. We just have to keep fighting and learn how to finish off games. I think we’ll be fine.”
A-West has its home opener Sept. 7 against Mountain Range at NAAC. Lakewood gets another test against an old Jeffco rival in Bear Creek the same night back at Jeffco Stadium.
“A-West is a good football team and Brad (Pyatt) is bringing the program back. Their kids played hard,” Braun said. “We just happened to get the bounce at the end to get the win.”