Big plays lift No. 1 Fleming over No. 2 Stratton/Liberty to claim 6-man football title

PUEBLO — Charles Hobbs and Nolan Japp had one job. Don't let Stratton/Liberty's Alex Cruz into the end zone.

The Fleming duo allowed Cruz three yards when he needed four on 4th and goal. For their effort, Chris Goss rewarded his teammates by breaking for a 79-yard touchdown run on the very next play, putting the Wildcats firmly in control as they claimed their second straight 6-man football title with a 60-28 over Stratton/Liberty at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl at CSU-Pueblo.

"That was going to be a big play that we were going to have and we just happened to use it right then," Goss said. "It worked out to where my blockers made the hole and I hit it and just went."

This is the fourth state football championship for Fleming, all of which have been won since 2011. But this version might prove to be the most memorable of the bunch considering the obstacles that all teams had to battle through during a COVID-filled 2020 season.

"This year has been such a roller coaster.," Fleming coach John King said. "I don't know how many times since August we've been heartbroken. There was a time early in the season and a time about three weeks ago that I had anxiety attacks almost. Every time my phone rang or I got a text, I thought they were shutting us down."

The call that King was dreading never came. The Wildcats and Knighted Eagles fought their way through the playoffs and notched a special game in history as the first to be played on a weekend where all seven games converged on one location.

Rather than the game being held at a home site as has been tradition, the 6-man title game was the first of all seven games to be play at the ThunderBowl. With the field constructed for a a regulation 11-man situation, a little work had to be done to get it to 6-man specs, but made for an overall great atmosphere for a championship game.

"(6-man) is different because the sidelines aren't what you normally see," Goss said. "They had to reconstruct the field a little bit to make it smaller, but I thought it was exciting."

Stratton/Liberty Fleming football

More photos from the game. (Lance Wendt/wendt5280.com)

Cruz sparked the first half scoring run with a 35-yard touchdown to put the Knighted Eagles (6-1 overall) up 8-0 early. The Wildcats (8-0) responded quickly with a 55-yard run from Japp. Cruz added a second rushing touchdown to once again put the Knighted Eagles in front, but that's when Fleming kicked things into high gear.

Touchdown runs from Hobbs and Goss along with a Kenny Bandy field goal pushed the lead to 28-14 at halftime.

Charlie Clapper sparked Stratton/Liberty early in the second half, breaking for a 41-yard score on the first offensive play of the third quarter to cut the lead to 28-20. But the Wildcats responded quickly as Hobbs scored from 13 yards out to once make it a two-score lead.

And they never looked back.

Hobbs rushed for two touchdowns in the second half, Kade Comstock threw a touchdown pass to Joel Muller and Goss added a late touchdown run of his own to lock up the Wildcats' second consecutive title.

Hobbs was named the game's Most Outstanding Player thanks in part to his big stop on defense as well as his three rushing touchdowns.

"I don't know how to express my feelings right now," Hobbs said. "It's not my win, it's the whole team's win. Without them this wouldn't be possible."

As time expired and the sun set behind the Rocky Mountains, the Wildcats used just enough of the remaining sunlight to appreciate the sparkling gold of another championship trophy.

Stratton/Liberty Fleming football

More photos from the game. (Lance Wendt/wendt5280.com)