PARKER — A fast and loose affair that matched two of the top-10 Class 4A teams in the state ended in a 57-35 shootout victory for Vista Ridge.
The fifth-ranked Wolves (3-0) used a high-powered passing attack and no small amount of turnovers to defeat the No. 7 Ponderosa Mustangs (2-1) on a clear night in Parker.
Vista Ridge quarterback Elway Tubbs led the way with a career day with over 400 yards passing and six touchdowns.
"Elway's been in the system for three years now," said Vista Ridge coach Jerimi Calip. "Any time you can get a quarterback in there with that much experience, it's going to be a big advantage for you and we were able to take advantage tonight."
Midway through the first quarter, Vista Ridge running back Louis Quinones took an inside handoff from Stubbs through the line and down the left sideline for the first score of the game.
It wouldn't take long after that for Tubbs to get in on the action. After a quick possession from the Mustangs, Tubbs connectd with Breon Michel on a 53-yard strike to make it 12-0 after a missed point after and subsequent failed two-point conversion.
The second quarter saw the Mustangs regroup offensively, but a couple of costly fumbles kept them out of the endzone despite long, sustained drives spanning a good chunk of the quarter.
On the other side of the ball, however, Ponderosa's defense stiffened, forcing an interception out of Tubbs following one fumble and a quick four-down denial in Wolves territory to set themselves up at the Vista Ridge 37 yard-line.
From there, it was just a long pass from Nick Wilson to Matt Brady down to the 12 yard-line, then a nifty little scamper into the endzone by Kelton Whitehead.
"Brady's a real leader on this team," said Ponderosa coach Jaron Cohen. "His ability on both sides of the ball, but especially as a tight end, has a steadying influence on our team."
But the Wolves were not done before the half. Elway Tubbs connected with Marquez Trunnell on a 73-yard pass down the sideline for the long score. Then the Mustangs had a late drive of their own in them, culminating in a short pass to Brady to go in 18-14 at halftime.
"They're a well-coached team and their offense is scary-good, obviously," said Cohen. "This was a really good football game that was closer than the score showed but unfortunately, we came up on the wrong end."
The second half began with a more deliberate pace than the first. Vista Ridge orchestrated a 40-yard drive before losing the ball on a bizarre 4th-and-one play in which the Wolves were called for a forward lateral. Ponderosa took the ensuing possession down to the Vista Ridge 20 yard-line before missing a 36 yard field goal attempt.
The Wolves coughed up the football again on the very next play, however, and the Mustangs' Nick Wilson capitalized by beating two linebackers to the pylon for a Ponderosa touchdown.
After a few more possessions back and forth, Vista Ridge would make a definitive statement, scoring two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the third quarter, along with a pair of two-point conversions to take a 34-21 lead. But as time expired on the third quarter, Ponderosa answered with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to make it 34-28 heading into the fourth.
A methodical drive to begin the fourth quarter saw the Wolves extend their lead to 42-28, and Vista Ridge iced the game a few possessions later with a clock-killing drive midway through the fourth quarter for a touchdown. Then an interception on the ensuing possession set up a final score for the 57-28 victory.
"We had a few mistakes to correct from the first half," Calip said. "A few dropped balls, some penalties, and some turnovers. I knew if we got that under control we would be just fine."
Indeed, Tubbs' record day throwing the ball saw him hit four different receivers with touchdown passes, and both Quinones and backup running back Emmanuel Walker added a score, as well. It was a group effort for the Wolves, who overcame several turnovers and special teams miscues of their own.
"We kept giving them field position on special teams," Calip said. "But once we got the little things corrected, we knew we'd take care of business."