LA JUNTA — The town of La Junta is set to party like it's 1958.
A year after state championship ambitions fell short, a capacity crowd gathered at Tigers Stadium to watch the football program end a 58-year drought.
The Tigers are once again football champions thanks to a 17-10 win over Kent Denver in the Class 2A state title game on Saturday.
"I think it’s huge. I think the whole town was here today," Tigers coach Clint Buderus said. “It’s so good for them. These kids brought this town together.”
And they brought the town together the way they have all year, with defense. The Tigers (12-0 overall) jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the second Kent Denver drive of the game. Izahiah Peteque stepped in front of a pass from Sun Devils quarterback Joey Licht and was off to the races.
It was less than seven minutes into the game and Tigers Stadium had erupted in celebration.
“It was pretty awesome,” Peteque said. “It was the best thing that we could’ve done. It was a great spark for our team.”
Then they made every effort to ride that spark.
The Sun Devils (11-2), for the most part, didn’t let the early pick-six phase them. They were able to control possession for most of the first half, out-gaining the Tigers 193-59 in total yards. They were able to bend the La Junta defense, but they couldn’t break it.
“They did a real nice job of stunting and blitzing,” Kent Denver coach Scott Yates said. “I think they had a good plan. We missed some blocks and we didn’t hit the hole real hard early in the first half.”
It looked like the Sun Devils had some momentum building when Licht hit Max Waldbaum for a 36-yard gain.
But a sack from Sal Vega led to another Peteque interception, his second in as many drives.
“Our defense kept us in games (all year) when we didn’t play great offense,” Buderus said. “They played lights out today.”
The Tigers got a third interception of the half as Wyatt Buhr picked off Licht and returned the ball to the Kent Denver three-yard line. It took only one play for John Nuschy to get those three yards and put the Tigers up 14-0.
The Sun Devils got on the board before halftime with a 29-yard field goal from Matt Romo-Nichols.
La Junta countered on the first drive of the second half with a 22-yard field goal to regain a two touchdown lead, then let its defense do the rest.
But there was one lapse that kept Kent in the game. Josh McDonald broke for a 79-yard touchdown run to cut the La Junta lead to 17-10.
The Tigers offense began to stall at that point as Nuschy would throw two interceptions of his own, but the defense continued to step up halt each Kent Denver drive.
The Sun Devils had one last opportunity and drove to the La Junta 28-yard line, facing a fourth and 12.
Vega broke through the line once more to get the sack on Licht, effectively bringing home a state title.
“We knew we had to step up,” Vega said. “We knew we had to come and play because they were not going to give up right away.”
But it was La Junta who was able to fight just a little bit harder. And with that fight, a state football championship once again belongs to the Tigers. For tonight, and for the next year, La Junta is a city of champions.