PUEBLO — It was only fitting that in the Home of Heroes heroics were on full display in the Class 2A football state title game.
With his team up four points, La Junta senior Jon Nuschy sat back in zone coverage and Brendan Bunting slip underneath him. Quarterback Trevon Wehrman saw the route across the middle and took the air, hoping to lead his team to a come from behind win.
But Nuschy jumped the route and picked off the ball.
La Junta held on for a 7-3 win at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl, claiming its second state football title in the last three years. Nuschy scored the game's only touchdown on a two-yard run and also grabbed that interception to kill the Broncos drive, and any chance taking the championship out of the Tigers' hands.
"That was a good football from the very start to the very end," La Junta coach Ty Buderus said. "It was stressful, but the kids played their hearts out. So did Platte Valley. They played a heck of a football game. We were just lucky enough to come out on top.”
Early on it looked like the game was going to feature a very different result. The Broncos (12-1 overall) went with a heavy dose of their dual rushing attack of Wehrman and Ernesto Rios. The duo accounted for 90 combined rushing yards in the first half.
But finding the end zone proved to be a problem. On Platte Valley's second drive of the game, Wehrman seemed to find the end zone on a one-yard run but an illegal block pushed them back. They couldn't convert on third down and opted for a field goal to go up 3-0.
"I didn’t know if we were going to stop them the whole game after that series," Buderus said. "They just kept running it and getting first downs. Our kids gritted their teeth. They were pinned back and held them to a field goal and that was a win in my eyes.”
The Tigers (13-0) started their second drive of the game with 8 minutes, 28 seconds left in the second quarter. Nuschy used a title option to get outside of the tackle box which is where the majority of the offensive yards came on the day.
He capped it off with the touchdown run to end an aggravating stretch where Platte Valley had completely owned time of possession.
“It was frustrating, but they have a great offense," Nuschy said. "They have a great guy running the ball and (Wehrman) is a great player. But we just went out and had to grind."
Overall, Nusch ended his day running the ball 19 times for 93 yards.
Neither team put points on the board in the second half, but Platte Valley nearly took the in the third quarter. From the 19-yard line Wehrman dropped to pass but was forced to scramble. He cut into space and had to get past a couple of defenders to reach the end zone. But the ball came loose.
The Tigers took over and the Broncos struggled to move the ball again until their final drive of the game when Nuschy created another turnover for La Junta.
— Daniel Mohrmann (@DanMohrmann) November 24, 2018
His efforts on offense and defense earned him Most Valuable Player honors, but the state championship trophy was the only award he was searching for on Saturday.
“(The MVP) doesn’t mean a lot but winning that state championship means the world," Nuschy said. "I’d rather us have the state championship without me being the MVP. But it’s a great honor and I’m thankful for everything I’ve done and achieved.”
The Broncos did get the ball back with just over 20 seconds to play in the game. Wehrman got the Broncos into striking distance and had one shot at a heave toward the end zone, but James Waddles broke through the offensive line and dropped Wehrman with a sack to end the game.
“As soon as I saw him in my vicinity, I knew I had to make the play," Waddles said. "I grabbed him and took him down and here we are.”
Prior to the state championship win in 2016, the Tigers had gone through a 58-year stretch between state titles. The 2018 title is the sixth for La Junta's football program.
In his first year as head coach after his brother Clint left for Pueblo West, Buderus now has his ring to claim and was grateful that the Tigers didn't have to wait more than a half-century to get it done.
But he knew in the end the credit for this championship has to go to his senior class and the leadership that the players instilled in this team.
"Those guys took control of this team and they knew this year was win it or bust for them," Buderus said. "They’ve been here twice before so I think the seniors on this team deserve a lot of credit and Jon was a big part of that.”