AURORA — Twice in the course of four quarters, Denver South quarterback Julian Buerk limped off the field in obvious pain. The first time, the Ravens were still losing so after taking a series off he went back out there.
The second time, the Ravens had just taken the lead in the fourth quarter and he turned the burden over to the defense. His two touchdown passes and the defense's ability to shut down the run game was the perfect formula for Class 5A No. 3 Denver South to come away with an 18-15 win over No. 1 Vista PEAK Prep on Saturday.
Sacrificing body and all was worth it for the senior quarterback after he had commanded the team to two 4-6 seasons in the years prior.
"You have to do what you have to do to win," Buerk said. "I came out to play and this was all for the team."
The team had to battle from behind early. The Bison (4-1 overall, 3-1 5A South) got on the board early thanks to a long touchdown run from Ja'derris Carr. A swinging gate formation on the point after allowed for an easy 2-point conversion to give them an 8-0 lead.
The Ravens (5-0, 4-0) knew they had to adjust their defense to focus on the run game and Buerk knew he had to get his team down the field. He wasn't afraid to air the ball out and chipped away yardage to get into the red zone in the second quarter.
Buerk found Jake Perruccio over the middle and the sophomore stretched his way into the end zone. Buerk was then stopped less than a yard shy of the goal line on the 2-point conversion, allowing the Bison to maintain a two-point lead at halftime.
The defenses clamped down and neither team scored in the third quarter. With time running out and his ankle obviously causing him discomfort, Buerk mustered up another drive into the Vista PEAK red zone. This time it was Rashad Caldwell on the catch and he kept his legs churning until he could reach the ball over the goal line to put the Ravens up 12-8.
"We know we have one of the best passing games in the state, fall or spring," South coach Ryan Marini said. "If we can protect him, we know that Julian will take over a game the way he did. Our receivers know to get open because he'll find them."
A pick-six from Yohannes Antonio put the game out of reach, although the Bison did score a late touchdown to pull to within a field goal. An injury to Carr late in the game just added to Vista PEAK's troubles throughout the day. Turnovers and costly penalties stalled drives at the most inopportune times. It's a lesson the Bison are sure to hang on to moving forward.
"We've had similar penalties but those didn't cost us a game," Bison coach John Sullivan said. "It finally did. But Denver South played a great game today. They came in with a plan for stopping our run and we'll get better. We'll learn from it."
For at least the weekend, Denver South with ride the wave of energy with the win. Marini was quick to point out that this senior class won a futures championship as eighth graders and a win over a team like Vista PEAK is something that players and coaches alike know can add energy to a program.
"It's the biggest win we could've gotten," Buerk said.
Now they want to aim for a bigger one as they look to make a championship run in the next month.