LOVELAND — With the official start of the playoffs still a week away, Ray Patterson Stadium hosted what will go down as the first game with a true postseason feel in 2020.
In a clash between two teams vying for space on the 8-team Class 4A postseason bracket, it was No. 5 Loveland gritting out a 27-26 overtime win over No. 6 Skyline.
"It was (a playoff game) for both teams," Loveland coach Jeff Mauck said. "We knew it. We knew there was a good chance the loser of this game went home and if you watched these two teams, you'd say both these teams are in the top eight teams in the state."
They were certainly within that one crucial point of each other in terms of play and execution on Thursday night. Loveland (6-0 overall, 5-0 4A Northern) scored on its opening drive, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock in the process.
Zack Rakowsky broke through the Skyline defensive line and scoring from four yards out. The missed extra point only gave Loveland a 6-0 and would leave them chasing points later in the game.
"We came into this game knowing we were going to have to battle and it would be a fight," quarterback Garrett Harstad said. "We just wanted to get yards, get first downs and take time off the clock."
The Falcons (5-1, 4-1) answered on their first drive with a three-yard touchdown run from Grayden Bridwell. The senior running did a fantastic job setting the pace in Skyline's run game which allowed quarterback Chase Silva more freedom to attack through the air.
Loveland scored again, but failed on the two point conversion, to take a 12-7 lead into halftime.
That's when Silva's arm showed up. He connected with an outstretched Logan Miller to put Skyline back on top for the second time of the night.
After holding Loveland to a three-and-out, the ball was back in Silva's hands as he aimed to give his team a two-score lead. But penalties quickly derailed the Falcons drive and on third down, Silva was picked off Austin Bierhaus.
Harstad then scored on a two-yard run and Loveland was finally successful on a two-point conversion to go up 20-14 with 23 seconds left in the third.
The Falcons went right back to Bridwell. He carried the ball nine times for for 58 yards on the next drive which ended with him scoring from eight yards out. He totaled 180 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the night.
Loveland blocked the extra point to keep the game tied, meaning Silva Bridwell and the Falcons were going to have more work cut out for them to leave Ray Patterson with the win. The defense did its job, shutting down Loveland and getting the ball back into the hands of the offense.
Again, Silva and Bridwell got their guys into scoring position but a 4th and 3 call inside the Loveland 15 was stopped cold, sending the game to overtime.
"Our defense stepped up," Mauck said. "And rightfully so, theirs matched it."
Skyline got the ball first in overtime and was ineffective for three plays before Silva found Nick Peterson in the corner of the end zone for the score. The misdirection pass for the two-point conversion was sniffed out by Loveland, giving Skyline just a 26-20 edge.
It took just one play for Loveland to tie the game as Joe Killian found room on a sweep to get the quick score. This time the extra point sailed through the uprights, keeping Loveland's record unblemished and keeping the season alive for another week.
"You can't even describe that right there," Rakowsky said. "The energy in our huddles, it was just inside."
The back and forth provided onlookers the first real glimpse of what playoff football will look like in the coming weeks. With the competition as tight as it is, the only unfortunate aspect is someone has to go home at the end of the day.
"They're ranked five and we were six and we came out here and basically go stalemate," Skyline coach Mike Silva said. "They made one more play than we did and we're probably going home. I think we're both playoff teams and I don't think this game changed that."