WINDSOR — In the craziest of years, Brighton football seemed to battle through challenge after challenge and emerge from their regular season finale with a level of joy that normally comes with a championship victory.
The Bulldogs might make the Class 4A playoffs. They might not. But following their 14-12 win over No. 9 Windsor on Friday night, coach Jeffrey Giger made sure his boys knew they had earned the right to consider themselves champions.
Since Week 1, the Bulldogs (5-1 overall, 4-1 4A Northern) have had to play on the road. That was no different in Friday's clash with the Wizards (4-2, 3-2). Draped in their home red uniforms, Brighton was represented as the "home" team, but played on the field of their opponents.
Challenge accepted. Win well deserved.
"As far as I'm concerned, they're champions," Giger said. "With the exception of one quarter against Broomfield, we should be undefeated. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. What they went through together, the way they stuck together, it was a playoff atmosphere every week and they getting better and playing better through all of this."
Friday was no different. The Wizards got on the board early with a touchdown run from Cason Kingsbury but the Bulldogs soon responded as Nate Griffeth found Eli Bowman in the end zone. Bowman grabbed the ball at its highest point to get the Bulldogs ahead 7-6.
"Nate was under pressure and he just had to throw it up," Bowman said.
It panned out and Brighton held the lead into halftime. But the slow, methodical Windsor offense stuck again as Dax Polka scored on 4th and goal from the two-yard line. The two-point conversion failed, giving Windsor just a 12-7 lead.
Throughout the third quarter, the Bulldogs offense couldn't generate positive yards and after punting from deep in their own territory, Windsor was just a few plays away from a back-breaking score.
Noah Canale had other ideas as he jumped a pass from Wizards quarterback Jake Coakley, giving Brighton its first real sign of life in the second half. Giger once again turned to the combination of Griffeth and Bowman and the two connected for their second touchdown of the game.
— Daniel Mohrmann (@DanMohrmann) November 14, 2020
"That interception really changed things," Bowman said. "It gave us the momentum back."
Now all they had to do was put together a couple of defensive stands to seal the win. The Bulldogs finally found a way to slow the Windsor running attack, forcing the Wizards to punt the ball the away with 4:29 left.
"Defensively we've given up some plays this year," Giger said. "I think we're a little better than what the stats say."
Windsor also held strong defensively, but couldn't generate another scoring drive and walked off its own field while watching the designated home team celebrate a potentially season saving win.
But the Bulldogs didn't do anything they thought they were incapable of. For every curveball that the COVID-19 pandemic has tossed their way, they've responded in kind and have something to be proud of regardless of what their schedule looks like on Monday.
"This game was definitely a program changer," Griffeth said. "We're just trying to put our school on the map. We don't get a lot of respect around the state but this game will definitely change that."