COLORADO SPRINGS — Everything about the atmosphere at District 20 Stadium felt like a playoff atmosphere. From the level of talent to the way the game played out, anyone could have guessed that it was a game fitting of mid to late November.
Even the weather screamed playoffs.
But in 24 degrees, it was Class 3A No. 4 Discovery Canyon grinding out a 20-7 win over No. 8 Lutheran.
"The only thing that didn't make it feel like the playoffs was getting one day of prep," Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell said.
After snow days canceled school for District 20 on Monday and Wednesday - and all afternoon activities called off for the incoming snow storm on Tuesday - Mitchell and Thunder athletic director Ron Sukle jumped onto a plow to clear the team's grass practice field for a Thursday practice.
In some ways the one day of practice showed as running back Marshall Pike fumbled the ball at one point, something uncharacteristic of him this season.
"Honestly, it was freaking cold and we didn't play the way we should have," Pike said.
If he felt that way then no one bothered to inform him of his final numbers. He ran the ball 35 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown in the second quarter put the Thunder (8-1 overall, 4-0 Central League) up 7-0.
The Lions (6-3, 2-2) struck back almost immediately as Max Rivkin found Noah Tack for a 58-yard touchdown pass. Outside of that passing play, Lutheran was trying to rely on a heavy dose of running back Brandon Belgrave, who ran for 109 yards on nine carries in the first half.
But the Lions squandered a couple of key opportunities with two second-quarter fumbles, both in Discovery Canyon territory, including one inside the 10-yard line.
"Turnovers inside the red zone and not scoring, you're not going to win many games like that," Stephen Robbins said.
Discovery Canyon really changed the tempo of the game with its first drive of the second half. Starting on their own 35, they drove inside the Lutheran 10 and even though Connor Clancy's field goal attempt was blocked, more than eight minutes had been taken off the clock.
"You always want points there," Mitchell said. "But in terms of a drive where you don't score, that's everything you can ask for. Going about the length of the field and taking about nine minutes off the clock."
It's also a good way to win big games; especially playoff-type games.
"There were some implications here tonight," Mitchell said. "I'm not a true numbers guy so I don't know exactly what had to happen in all these scenarios, but I knew a win tonight gave us a really good chance at hosting a playoff game which would be pretty cool."
Despite the loss, Lutheran has the benefit of having played in a game that felt every bit like a playoff atmosphere, but having some time to clean up things like turnovers in opposing teams' territory.
The big key that they learned on Friday was that they need to have the ball for more than a couple of quick drives in the second half.
"That was really frustrating," Robbins said. "I looked at the clock and it was going into the fourth quarter and we had run four plays."
For Discovery Canyon, the ball control in the second half was a statement. Pike ran for 105 yards in the final two quarters alone and his second touchdown was set-up by a 22-yard run by Kevin Frye.
Pike then dragged the Lutheran defense for nearly 13 yards to put the game all but out of reach.
"It's good to know we can stick and get the (win) when we need to," Pike said.
Their biggest challenge will be doing that next week as they'll face Palmer Ridge for the Central League title.