COLORADO SPRINGS — Coronado’s first game at the Class 4A level came without the aid of star running backs Isaah Duvall and Malik Renner.
They found themselves down 6-0 early after Stratton Case connected with wide receiver Nathan Courtney for a 70-yard pass that would set up a Jordan Harvin touchdown.
But despite the early deficit, the Cougars remembered that they are a defending state champion (in 3A) and played like it the rest of the way, downing the Terrors 34-20 at Garry Berry Stadium Friday night.
“I think a lot of that was that it was the first game and playing the first game at 4A makes it a little nerve-racking,” Coronado coach Bobby Lizarraga said. “There is an old rivalry that I think has been reignited and I think that also had a lot to do with it.”
After the quick scoring drive by the Terrors, the Cougars were given another chance to get their high-powered offense in rhythm. They drove to midfield where quarterback Devon Baker was once again sacked on third down, forcing the Cougars to punt the ball.
“We had a tendency to start a little slow last season and unfortunately this first game,” Lizarraga said. “But I think the kids are going to pick (the pace) up as we go.”
It was the third offensive drive for the Cougars finally produced a spark. They were given their best field position on the day after a poor Palmer punt and the ground game finally went to work. Granted, they got help from a Palmer personal foul penalty that moved them 15 yards closer to the endzone, but it wouldn’t have mattered in the end. Running back Zeb Foster broke free for a 25-yard touchdown run, energizing the defending state champs.
Desperately needing to re-establish momentum, the Terrors found themselves in a fourth-and-1 situation. They couldn’t convert and the ball went right back in the hands of the Cougars. This time it was Austin Micci who used his legs to get the Cougars on the scoreboard. He powered his way to a 20-yard touchdown run. A blocked extra point kept the Terrors within seven, but were down 13-6 before they knew what hit them.
“We’ve been really working on our ground game all the way back to January,” Micci said. “We just continue to pound the ball and keep going with what works and that’s how it went tonight.”
After cornerback Tijai Whatley picked off a flutter pass from Case, Micci would add another 20-yard touchdown run to his night and a two-point conversion would give the Cougars a 21-6 lead and seemingly control of the game.
The Terrors would close the gap somewhat with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Case to Courtney, who came down with the ball despite solid coverage by the Cougars. A failed two-point conversion kept it a two-score game at 21-12.
To start the second half, the Cougars went back to right where they want to live: the ground game. They grinded out a long touchdown drive that ended with Baker getting into the endzone on a quarterback keeper. Although the 27-12 score at the end of the third quarter looked close, the Cougars had been dominant through most of the game.
It wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter that Palmer finally got their offense moving again. Case connected once again with Courtney on a 20-yard touchdown pass and the successful two-point conversion brought the Terrors to within a touchdown with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
The Terror defense held strong and was able to force a punt that got Palmer the ball back. But the Cougars would match that defensive effort, sacking Case on 2nd and 3rd down to force the Terrors to punt the ball away and put it back in the hands of a dangerous Coronado ground game.
That decision would result in the final nail of the Terrors’ coffin. Micci took the ball 59 yards on the first play, putting the Cougars up 34-20 and sealing their first win at the 4A level. In total, the Cougars ran for 400 yards on the day with 201 coming from Micci to go along with his three touchdowns.
“It was a great feeling to just come out on top with a win,” Micci said. “We’ve been really working hard and we knew we were coming up to the 4A level so it’s just a great accomplishment.”
The Cougars hit the road for the first time next week as they travel to Dutch Clark Stadium to face Pueblo East. Palmer will square off against another District 11 school as they square off against Doherty.