PUBELO — Facing 4th down and 12, the pass protection broke down. Manitou Springs quarterback Caleb Allen had to scramble, hoping a receiver could open. His heel got clipped and he thought he was done for but he maintained his balance and hit Davis Mack for a big a first down.
And Allen did it with a torn ACL in his right knee.
That play setup a game-tying field goal and after two overtime sessions, the Mustangs beat Flatirons Academy 31-30 and are the Season C Class 2A football champions.
"Caleb's just a warrior," coach Cory Archuleta said. "He tore his ACL late in (Manitou's regular season finale against Manual) and he's been a warrior ever since. There was no way he wasn't going to play in any of these games moving forward. He finished what he started."
The Mustangs (7-1 overall) were better for it. They installed some wildcat options - that turned out to be vital in overtime - and relied on athletic trainer Nick Nunley to ensure that Allen was both safe and effective. That proved to be the case when he hit Joah Armour for an 80-yard game-winning touchdown against Buena Vista just to get the Mustangs to the title game.
"Nunley did a great job of keeping him safe," Arch added.
Keeping him safe was vital as the Mustangs needed him for every step of one of the most thrilling football title games in recent memory.
A big completion from Jacob Dube to Trenton Rowan set the Bison (7-1) up for their first score of the game, but the Manitou defense held firm and the field goal attempt was blocked by Tyler Maloney.
The Mustangs stalled offensively and the Bison took quick advantage and took a 7-0 lead.
Manitou tied the game on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Armour, their first of two touchdown connections on the day. But the pass defense for the Mustangs continued to falter as Dube found Rowan for a 32-yard score to put the Bison back on top.
They had a chance to take major momentum into halftime as Dube scrambled and found a gap that directed him toward the end zone. Manitou linebacker Caden Harris caught him and knocked the ball loose and it rolled through the end zone, giving the ball to the Mustangs on their own 20 yard line. They went into halftime down just seven points rather than 14.
The Mustangs tied the game in the second half the second touchdown connection from Allen to Armour and the defense appeared to have adjusted from the first half. Until Deverick Dow found a hole and rumbled down the sideline, putting the Bison deep into Manitou territory.
Facing 3rd and 12, Dube scrambled for the first, getting inside the 10-yard line, but the Mustangs limited the damage to a field goal attempt. Rowan's kick was good, giving the Bison a 17-14 lead with 2:45 left on the clock.
Allen got the offense moving with a completion to Ethan Boren, getting the Mustangs into Flatirons Academy territory. Facing 4th and 12, Allen scrambled and found Mack for the first down.
"He hit my heel and I thought I was going down," Allen said. "Somehow I stayed on my feet and I was lucky Davis caught it.
That setup an Isaiah Thomas field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime, where Thomas earn his status as the game's Most Outstanding Player.
The Bison scored quick, then Thomas came out in the wildcat and got his team into the end zone where they briefly went over their options.
"We wanted this game to win," Thomas said. "But we trust in my leg and obviously the defense was showing up every single play."
Thomas added another touchdown run in the second overtime and again the Bison found the end zone quickly. They opted for the 2-point conversion.
Dube found a gab but Jesse Jorstad made contact to slow him down before Parker Salladay wrapped up his legs and kept him just inches shy of the goal line.
"We knew it was the last play of the game," Jorstad said. "Everyone was going 100%, especially on that last play."
Through all the celebration, the Mustangs acted in the normal way that champions do. They congratulated their opponents on a hard-fought game. Allen did a much better job of hiding a slight limp with a bad knee than he did hiding his emotions.
When he talked with his family, they evaluated the risk and the reward of playing for three more games. The reward was more than worth it.
"I'm so glad I risked it," Allen said. "This was pretty awesome."