No. 6 Fountain-Fort Carson rides strong second half to thrilling 4A football playoff win over No. 3 Ponderosa

PARKER — Every once in a while, the biggest stars shine brights on the brightest of stages. With his team down 10 points in the second half of Saturday's Class 4A football quarterfinals, Fountain-Fort Carson running back Q. Jones took center stage.

The standout ran for scores of 64 and 35 yards to lead the No. 6 Trojans to a 41-38 win over No. 3 Ponderosa advance to a football semifinal game for the first time since 1988.

In all, Jones ran the ball 28 times for 332 yards and three touchdowns on the day.

"He's been doing that for at least two years of his high school career," coach Jake Novotny said. "It's a shame he doesn't have a single Division I offer."

His performance on Saturday is certainly in line high-level collegiate play. After quarterback Tavian Tuli first pass of the game was picked off by Ponderosa lineback Brady Porter and returned for a touchdown, Jones put himself to work.

He broke for a 50-yard run to tie the game, officially lighting the fuse on what is sure to be one of the more thrilling playoff games of the year.

By no means, did Jones' effort batter any confidence coming from the Mustangs (6-1 overall). Quarterback Jack Henenburg had every intention of setting the tone offensively and did just that by going 15-for-20 for 170 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone.

"We've never played a quarterback and receiving corps that can flow like that," lineback Nick Neely said. "He was finding those small windows and the DB's never had to step up like that."

A change was needed, so Novotny moved away from the zone coverage that he leaned toward in the first half and went to more of a man set.

"That quarterback is a stud," Novotny said. "He was picking apart our zone so we decided to tighten those windows and take our chances with the run game."

(Brad Cochi)

At the same time, the Trojans (6-1) got the run game going big time. With the defense slowing down the Mustangs and offensive line creating just enough space for Jones to work with, he went hog wild, amassing 209 of his rushing yards in the second half alone.

"It's a blessing to get that opportunity," Jones said. "The fact that I get the opportunity to do that is big."

The first half closed with Ponderosa taking a 31-21 lead thanks to a touchdown pass from Hanenburg to Kolton Miller and then taking advantage of Tuli's second interception of the day which led to a Hayden Huckaby field goal.

Jones cut the lead to three points with a 64-yard touchdown run and Tuli found Ricardo Rivera for a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the Trojans up 35-31 heading into the fourth quarter.

Hanenburg struck again, finding Carter Motichka for a 28-yard score to put the Mustangs back ahead.

The Trojans put together a methodical drive, trying to chew up clock in the process and faced a crucial 4th and 1 at the Ponderosa 35-yard line. Needing just a yard, Jones broke for 35 to score what would be the game-winning touchdown, putting FFC up 41-38 after the extra point was missed.

But the defense still needed to make one more stand. A great punt return gave the Mustangs possession at the FFC 20. They tried to go ground heavy and found themselves facing 4th and 2 from the 12. Rather than a field goal attempt to tie the game, Ponderosa coach Jaron Cohen went for the first down, but Cael Porter was stopped short of the yard to game.

"For someone to have to lose that game by a foot, it stinks that it's us, but credit goes to them," Cohen said. "They played hard for 48 minutes and we played hard and it was just one of those games."

It'll be one of those games that will get talked about and referenced several years from now. In the midst of a crazy 2020 season, playoff football is still just as thrilling as ever and it's performances from Hanenburg and Jones, as well as their entire teams, that are proof of that.

(Brad Cochi)