COLORADO SPRINGS — Two gutsy calls on 4th down led to huge momentum swings for Lewis-Palmer and Discovery Canyon. But one certainly had a greater impact than the other.
A decision to call a fake punt on 4th and 18 deep in the their own territory proved to be costly for Lewis-Palmer as the Rangers fell to Discovery Canyon 26-20.
It turned out to be a milestone for the Thunder as Shawn Mitchell came away with his 100th win as a head coach. And boy was it ever a stressful way of achieving a milestone. The Thunder was down 13-6 at half and had to battle back and score the game-winning touchdown with 1:16 left in the game.
"The fight back part was good," Mitchell said. "The not-so good part was the sloppiness of it. We were sloppy in our execution on offense, defense and special teams."
The defense allowed the Rangers (6-1 overall, 1-1 Southern League) to march 80 yards on their opening drive that consumed half the first quarter. It ended with a touchdown pass from Kevin Tims to Joel Scott.
But a good ensuing return from Sterling Watkins and a long touchdown run from Josh Tomjack let the Rangers know that it was going to a battle with the top-ranked team in Class 3A.
Just maybe not in the way it had shaped up in the opening quarter. The Rangers would add two field goals and the Thunder wouldn't score again in the first half.
The defense gave up the points and besides one play from each unit, the offense and special teams stopped executing as Mitchell said.
"There was just a couple breakdowns on offense," Tomjack said. "The defense really showed up and played awesome, they gave us another shot."
The Thunder (7-0, 2-0) tied the game up in the third quarter with a touchdown run from quarterback Tyler McFarland.
"That definitely sparked us," McFarland said. "We knew we wanted to come out of halftime and score right off the bat and we did that. From then on we gained a lot of momentum."
But the Rangers tried to spoil it.
While driving down the field at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder faced a 4th and goal at the five-yard line.
Mitchell decided to go for it rather than kick the field goal.
They didn't get it.
The result was a long Lewis-Palmer drive that resulted in another touchdown pass from Tims to Scott, giving Lewis-Palmer a 20-13 lead.
But the Thunder tied the game up on a touchdown pass from McFarland to Zane Nichols.
As the clock started ticking away, the Rangers were hoping for one more drive that could net them even a field goal. A Tims took a sack on 1st down, setting up long yardage on the next two plays.
Two passes fell incomplete and, deep in their own territory, they were forced to punt.
Or so it seemed.
Lewis-Palmer opted for a fake, hoping to catch the Thunder off-guard.
They didn't get it.
"That call is my fault," coach Dustin Tupper said. "If it works, you're coach of the year. If not, you're a doofus and that was my call."
It resulted in a touchdown run from Trevor Ivy and the Thunder remained unbeaten on the year. With the playoffs on the horizon, they know that they have to continue to grind and play each week with the same intensity they were forced to on Friday night.
"We just go week by week and break it into parts," Tomjack said. "We just need to improve ourselves the best we can."
And it always helps to not bite on a fake punt on 4th and long.