BROOMFIELD — Early in the fourth quarter, Holy Family's Matteo Lonardo found himself at the bottom of the pile with a fumble recovery.
"I wasn't going to let go of that ball," Lonardo said. "I've never fought for anything harder in my life than in the bottom of that pile.
"I knew after that we had all the momentum. I knew (the offense) would go down and do their job because they're the best offense out there."
Holy Family, newly-minted as the No. 1 team in Class 3A football, took advantage of the timely turnover and drove the ball down for the eventual game-winning touchdown in a 16-13 win over No. 5 Fort Morgan.
"I wasn't surprised when they came up with that turnover," Quarterback Stone Samaras said. "I'm grateful for my defense and I'm glad they were able to get us out there and we were able to capitalize."
Samaras found Kyle Helbig in the back of the endzone for a 16-yard touchdown pass on third down. The Samaras to Helbig touchdown gave Holy Family its first lead with 7:50 in the 4th quarter.
The Tiger defense rose to the occasion again. An intentional grounding in the endzone gave Holy Family a safety and put them up by three points.
"Sometimes defense makes mistakes, sometimes offense makes mistakes," Lonardo said. "We just have to stick up for the other side when they're falling short. Today, the defense did that."
With Fort Morgan facing a pivotal first-quarter fourth down in Holy Family territory from the 33, Holy Family's Mitchell Guyot intercepted the pass off a deflection.
But, there was a flag for pass interference on the play.
Fort Morgan took advantage of the drive extending penalty with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Isaac Linker to Grayson Garver on a fade route.
At the end of the third quarter, Holy Family had a 3rd and goal from the one-yard-line, down 13-7. The Tigers ran it in for a game-tying touchdown, but an illegal shift set them back to the six.
The Fort Morgan defense stepped up and got two straight sacks on third and fourth down that had the Mustangs taking the ball over on the 25 when it was all said and done.
Fort Morgan put an emphasis 0n limiting Kyle Helbig and Stone Samaras, and boy did they. In the first half, Samaras and Helbig connected just once.
"That was the one positive play of the entire half," Samaras said. "Coming out into the second half, we had a new mindset. We were going to restart 0-0."
Helbig ran a stop-and-go route and a Samaras pump fake got a rusher to leave his feet. Samaras floated the ball to Helbig for a 46-yard gain, but the Tigers were unable to take advantage of the momentum.
A Lonardo 45-yard field goal fell short and kept Holy Family off the scoreboard. Holy Family's first-half drives went: Punt, interception, punt, punt, missed field goal, interception, interception.
But, it was a Fort Morgan turnover that let Holy Family into the game.
"Thank God for our defense because they kept us in the game," Samaras said. "We knew we had to play our game, and we came out in the second half and that's what we did."
A fumble on the opening kick of the second half gave Holy Family the ball on the 24. Later in the drive, Mitchell Guyot took a handoff six yards and suddenly the Fort Morgan lead was just six points.
"I really think that fumble recovery sparked us," Samaras said. "Kyle's play brought us alive."
Fort Morgan took over on the 20 after the missed field goal and the Tiger defense pushed the Mustangs back to their own 15. A 79-yard pass from Isaac Linker to Jacob Ortega gave Fort Morgan first and goal from the six.
An Adam Cardona 25-yard field goal put Fort Morgan up 10-0.
Andrew Monroe intercepted a Samaras pass and returned it to the 50 on Holy Family's next drive, and Fort Morgan began driving with the clock winding down before halftime.
A wild series of plays had the Mustangs jogging into the locker room up 13-0.
Holy Family's Coby Hsin picked off the pass with six seconds left in the half, but on the next play, Linker returned Samaras' pass 42 yards for a pick six. A penalty negated the touchdown, but Fort Morgan was given one untimed down, and they extended their lead with it.
Jose Jimenez put a 33-yard field goal through the uprights as the half ended.
"During halftime, we were talking about how we've been here before," Lonardo said. "We've been down more points than this. We never put our heads down or anything. We were confident and we came out and just wanted to play ball."
Holy Family came out looking like an entirely different team. They controlled the pace, forced turnovers and put points on the board.
"We came together as a team in the second half," Samaras said. "Our defense held it together and we came together as a group to come away with it."