Coronado's comeback caps a win for 3A football title

Silver Creek Coronado football

Coronado's players celebrate winning the 3A football championship. More photos. (Pam Wagner)

LONGMONT -- History doesn’t have to wait any longer for the Coronado High School football program.

Quarterback Joah Smith capped an improbable comeback with an 11-yard touchdown run around the right corner with just over four minutes remaining, vaulting the Cougars to their first state title with a 28-24 win over defending state champion Silver Creek Saturday in the Class 3A state championship game at the Everly-Montgomery field.

“This feels amazing,” said the senior Smith, who scored with 4:15 left. “It is everything we worked for. This is something I dreamed about as a kid.”

Coronado (13-1) was playing in only its second state championship football game in school history, losing in the 3A finals 14-12 to Loveland in 1982.

“I can’t describe the feeling, it is incredible,” said Coronado coach Bob Lizarraga, whose team was trailing 17-0 with 8:31 remaining in the second quarter. “Being down (17-0) wasn’t something we had not been in before. I think it was supposed to be this way.”

Reaching the state 3A football summit for the first time is even more special for the Cougars since they had am 0-10 record two years ago.

Silver Creek Coronado football

More photos. (Pam Wagner)

“The kids had determination and believed in this program,” Lizarraga said. “They knew they had something to offer and they just kept working at it and here we are.”

Silver Creek (10-3) was playing in third state championship game in a row. It beat Rifle 32-15 last year and lost to Windsor 14-7 in 2011.

“First of all a ton of credit goes to them (Coronado),” Silver Creek coach Mike Apodaca said. “They made plays and we didn’t. We had them in a lot of long distance situations and couldn’t come up with plays and their kids did. You play this game, and we have been fortunate to be in three of them, and comes down to the team that plays the best on that day and today they played the best and kudos to them. I thought our kids battled hard we just let them out of too many holes.”

Trailing 24-21, the Cougars had the odds against them as they took over possession at their own 1-yard line with 11:31 on the clock.

Coronado moved the ball to its own 31-yard line, but it was facing another tough obstacle at 3rd-and-24. The pressure didn’t quarterback Smith or his twin brother Sam, a receiver for the Cougars.

Joah dropped back and lofted a deep pass to his brother who leaped over Silver Creek defenders and made the catch and run for a 43-yard gain at the 6:50 mark.

“That was all him,” said Joah about the huge third-down conversion. “I just threw it. He makes plays and he jumped up and caught it.”

Just under three minutes later, Joah made the biggest play in Coronado football history by rolling right and scoring from 11 yards out. Jose Perez’s PAT was tipped at line of scrimmage, but the football had enough steam to get over the bar with 4:15 left.

“It does take a quarterback with a lot of poise, and Joah has grown tremendously over the last four years,” Lizarraga said. “He’s a leader on and off the field. The Smith boys have that telepathy and they kept that last drive going.”

Silver Creek had a chance to win the game, but its last drive ended when they only managed 14 yards on a 4th down and 24 play from their own 44-yard line. Coronado took over possession with 1:02 remaining and ran out the clock.

Silver Creek Coronado football

More photos. (Pam Wagner)

“We didn’t a good enough job of consistently moving the chains,” Apodaca said. “The first two or three first downs (on that last drive) we were doing what we wanted to do and then we tried to make a big play instead of continuing to move the chains. Again, credit to them, they made plays that put pressure on us and we just didn’t come up with it (Saturday).”

Coronado riding a tidal wave of momentum in the second quarter where it scored 14 points, kept things rolling in the third quarter. Isaah Duvall busted through the line and sped 80 yards for a score, giving the Cougars their first lead at 21-17 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.

The reeling Raptors answered back with a quick pass from Silver Creek quarterback Ben Sjobakken to Brock Ricks. Ricks cut across the middle of the field and didn’t stop until he scored 58 yards later, giving the Raptors the lead back at 24-21 at 3:34 of the third.

It appeared Silver Creek, the defending state champion, would run away from the game in the first half.

The Raptors’ Anthony Kasper raced 97 yards on the opening kickoff. Silver Creek then went ahead 14-0 on an 18-yard reverse by Eric Machmuller with 2:05 left in the first quarter.

The Raptors were in business again when Levi Cecil recovered a fumble by Coronado quarterback Joah Smith. That led to a 49-yard field goal by Ryan Charles which put Silver Creek up 17-0 with 8:31 remaining in the second quarter.

The Cougars did claw back into the game when Zeb Foster rumbled 8 yards for a score with 4:19 showing on the second-quarter clock. It was a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

Coronado’s Austin Micci intercepted a pass from Silver Creek quarterback Ben Sjobakken with 31  seconds left. Moments later, Coronado quarterback Smith hooked up with Junior York for 61 yards. Foster capped with the frantic march with a 5-yard scoring scamper with 9 seconds on the clock. Smith then completed a two-point conversion pass to Sam Smith to get the Cougars within 17-14.

“We just never quit,” Micci, a junior, said. “We wanted this state championship more than anything in the world.”