ARVADA — It took a matter of 46 seconds off the clock Friday night at the North Area Athletic Complex to changed the mood of Arvada West’s large football homecoming crowd.
The Wildcats were locked up with Standley Lake in a 7-7 deadlock through the first half. Things changed quick in the second half when A-West sophomore Isaiah Ocana returned a punt 75 yards for the touchdown with 9:24 left in the third quarter.
“At halftime we went into the locker room locked in and buckled up,” A-West senior defensive lineman and fullback Anthony Gallardo said after the Wildcats sent their homecoming crowd home happy with a 28-14 victory.
Two plays after Ocana’s punt return, Standley Lake fumbled on its own 18-yard line. A-West junior quarterback Johnny Krutsch didn’t waste any time capitalizing. Krutsch hit junior Cory Carignan on the next play for an 18-yard touchdown at the 8:38 mark in the third quarter to push the Wildcats’ lead to 21-7.
“It was that first six minutes of the third quarter — punt return, fumble — that third quarter killed us,” Standley Lake coach Don Morse said after the Gators’ first loss of the season. “I was pleased with the way our guys competed.”
Standley Lake (4-1 record) was shorthanded with leading rusher — senior Ty Webber — out of the line-up against the 5A team from A-West. Morse said Webber, who had 525 yards rushing in the Gators’ first four games, got injured during practice this week, but should return to the field soon.
Gators’ quarterback Alex France had a solid night with a 9-yard touchdown run and finished the game with a 71-yard touchdown pass to junior Tyler Williams against A-West’s back-ups in the final minutes.
“I consider A-West would be a top-5 team in 4A. They have that kind of talent and ability,” Morse said. “It was good for us to see that is the type of team we’ll have to play at our level. You can’t make mistakes against good teams.”
Standley Lake heads into conference play next week. The Gators open up against Thornton at 7 p.m. Friday night at Five Star Stadium. Fruita Monument (5-0) looks to be the team to beat in the 4A Mountain League. Standley Lake will get the Fruita at the NAAC on Oct. 20.
A-West (4-1) has won four straight after losing on a last-second pick-6 against Lakewood to open the season. The Wildcats have been able to put that tough loss behind them.
“It’s just snowballing,” A-West senior defensive lineman Jack Boyer said of the Wildcats’ momentum. “We are getting better and better. We are improving every week.”
Junior running back and safety Tony Cass carried a heavy load early against Standley Lake. Cass had 14 carries for 85 yards in the first quarter. His 15th carry came on the first play in the second quarter and resulted in a 1-yard touchdown run.
“They wanted to run the ball early because it was raining out,” said Cass, who had nine straight carries on the Wildcats’ 57-yard scoring drive. “I was getting tired. I just had to keep pushing.”
Cass finished with 21 carries for 116 yards and also had a 30-yard reception.
Gallardo had an impressive game on both sides of the ball. He had a sack and scored A-West’s final touchdown on a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter.
“They just gave me the ball and I put my head down. I saw a gap and took it,” Gallardo said.
A-West opens its conference play in the 5A Mt. Wilson League against Rangeview (1-4). The Wildcats travel to Aurora Public School Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday, Oct. 6.
A-West coach Brad Pyatt’s club had a 2-3 record in the league last season. The focus this season is to make a run as a legitimate contender to challenge the likes of No. 2 ranked Eaglecrest (5-0) and rival Ralston Valley in the conference.
“We just keep the same mindset that nobody is better than us,” Gallardo said. “We go out there and play ball, buckle up and get ready for the ride.”