Pueblo South beats Pine Creek for school's first state football title

DENVER — Pueblo South quarterback Zach Cozzolino looked around in disarray. Amongst the fans, media and teammates and was searching for an important item.

"I can't find my helmet," he said.

Not that it mattered. His hands were full anyway. Wrapped up in his arms was Pueblo South's first-ever football state championship trophy.

The Colts earned it with a 25-14 win over defending champion Pine Creek. The Class 4A championship was in new hands.

"It's indescribable, really," Cozzolino said. "I'm just so proud of these guys. We knew all along that we were capable of doing this and proving it to everyone else."

There is no question to anyone that the Colts (13-1 overall) are talented. And with Pine Creek showing man-to-man coverage early, there was no issue in putting that talent on display.

On their second drive the of the game, the Colts struck on the kind of big plays that they've thrived on all year. A quick slant from receiver Marcell Barbee turned into a 67-yard touchdown pass for Cozzolino, igniting the South sideline and fan base.

"I know we like to set the tempo early," Barbee said. "I honestly thought I was going to get tackled but I felt the guy slide off me. Being able to score on the first touchdown like that, it's a great way to set the tempo and help us win this game."

(Marlee Smith/CHSAANow.com)

Setting the tempo wasn't going to be enough. To come away with a win, the Colts were going to have to maintain the tempo. Cozzolino went right back to work, finding Jesse Anzar for a 31-yard pass.

The Eagles (12-2), winners of three of the previous four state championships, were suddenly in 13-0 hole against one of the state's most potent offenses.

"It was just big plays," Pine Creek coach Todd Miller said. "They're a big offense and it showed up and was able to put us behind the eight ball a bit."

Perhaps even more impressive was the defensive unit for the Colts. Pine Creek running back David Moore III gained 97 yards on 17 carries in the first half, but the Eagles went into halftime without a point on the board.

They finally scored early in the second half thanks to a big dose of Moore. His three-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 13-7 and finally seemed to give the defending champions some life.

But South responded quickly. Thomas Pannunzio ran the ensuing kick back 93 yards to once again take a two-score lead at 19-7.

"The kick-off return kind of broke our back," Miller said.

The Eagles mounted another scoring drive early in the fourth quarter, but were hit with some terrible luck. A hard hit sent quarterback J.C. Coulter to the turf. After getting off under his own power, it was clear that Coulter wasn't going to return to the game and if a comeback was going to happen, it was going to have to be Gavin Herberg at the helm.

He got into the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown run. With 10:28 remaining in the game, Eagles were within five points.

Rather than going conservative and trying to run the clock down, the Colts stuck to their game plan.

"We got out of our game plan when we had a lead in the last couple of weeks," South coach Ryan Goddard said. "We talked about it this week, when we get opportunities we have to take them. You never know when you're going to get these plays back."

When South needed a big play to once again put Pine Creek its heels, Cozzolino went straight back to Barbee, taking advantage of the one-on-one coverage. A 40-yard gain set up the final Colts touchdown, a one-yard sneak from Cozzolino.

"That's the relationship we have," Barbee said about Cozzolino. "He has multiple weapons he can throw to so for him to throw it to me... I have to thank him for giving me the ball."

The Eagles couldn't mount a comeback. Goddard, a 2001 graduate of South and an alum of Colorado State University-Pueblo, was able to soak in the moment giving his school the football title it so badly wanted.

"This is so special," he said. "Obviously our community is special. Being a South guy, putting a lot of time and effort in this program as a player and an assistant coach, understanding the groundwork that was laid before us, that's really humbling."

The Colts now leave Denver with a brand new piece of hardware. Space will have to be made for it at the school, but that's a problem most teams love having. As the Colts filtered off the field, Cozzolino looked as if he had no desire relinquish a hold of the trophy.

Even at the cost of his own equipment.

Pueblo south football champions

(Cannon Casey/CHSAANow.com)