STRATTON — On Sept. 21, 2018, the Fleming Wildcats had come off a painful 47-point loss to Prairie. Coach John King was out of ways to respond to the loss. Hard practices weren't working it seemed like any idea he could muster up was ineffective.
So he talked with his boys. He asked them what they thought the top 10 teams in the state, whether it be Stratton/Liberty in 6-Man or Cherry Creek in Class 5A were doing. That was the start of their redemption. They went into every practice, every weightroom session, every game with a simple mentality.
Be a 10.
One year, two months and two days later, the Wildcats no longer had to try to Be a 10. They were now The One.
A thrilling 28-27 over Stratton/Liberty gave the Wildcats (13-0 overall) the 6-Man football championship. It concludes a remarkable road that started that with that loss to Prairie and culminated with much of the same group hoisting a championship trophy, the third in program history.
"I'll probably never know what clicked for a whole team to click like that overnight," King said. "It felt like it happened at the snap of a finger almost at some point there. I've never experienced, I've never even heard of anything like that."
After holding the Knighted Eagles (11-2) on the first drive of the game, Fleming found the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown run from Brandon Williams. It wouldn't be his first of the day, but it turned out that every little bit was going to count.
Stratton/Liberty answered with a 65-yard touchdown run from Jaret Lichty. He would go on to rush for 270 yards and four touchdowns for the game and at times, looked to be the deciding factor that wasn't going to allow the first-place trophy to leave on I-70.
But until the clock had all zeroes on it, the Wildcats knew there was a chance.
"We never had any doubt that we were out of it," Williams said. "Even when they scored and went up with three minutes left, we never had a doubt."
A big stop on fourth down late in the fourth quarter gave the ball back to the Knighted Eagles. They drove down inside the five-yard line with a chance to get another touchdown on the board and put the game out of reach. But even after all the times that Lichty had broken free during the game, he was held one yard short of his intended mark of the goal line.
Two plays later, the Wildcats had given themselves some breathing room before Williams broke for a 70-yard score. The two-point kick after was blocked and Fleming still trailed by one with time running out.
The defense refused to let Lichty or anyone break free for three plays and Stratton/Liberty was forced to punt. And that's when the Wildcats found the two points they needed. The snap sailed over the head of the Knighted Eagles' punter and was kicked out of the end zone for a safety.
"I feel bad about how that happened," King said. "I've felt like I've lost state championships because of an injury before and just little things. Those little things can make a huge difference."
Stratton/Liberty was able to get the ball back to try get one more chance to regain the lead. But a 3rd down pass was intercepted by Eric Resendiz (who also had a touchdown reception in the game) and the Fleming celebration was one.
When King gathered his boys and reminded them that the win was ignited by the fire of that big loss to Prairie over a year ago, it was a reminder for them to contemplate where they had been and what had gotten them to where they were.
"It's not even the same team," Williams said. "I'll tell you what, we wanted it so bad. We were always underdogs. We were the underdogs all year, and we just worked our butt off over the summer and all throughout the whole season."
They worked like they thought a top-10 team was supposed to work. Their reward was not being seen as a top-10 team at the end of the season. They received their state championship trophy and held up a single finger.