CORTEZ (10/25/13) — The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) wild card formula is something of a mystery, but in 2012, a late-season, non-league loss to Evergreen nudged Glenwood Springs out of the playoffs. This year, the Demons took care of that obstacle by soundly defeating the third-ranked Cougars 35-7, so with Friday’s 35-14 win at Montezuma-Cortez, and only winless Battle Mountain left on the schedule, Glenwood (6-3) should have punched its playoff ticket.

But here’s where sportsmanship could become a factor. Leading 28-7 thanks to Henry Hill’s astounding 91-yard touchdown return of what was intended to be an onside kick with just under 6 minutes to play at Cortez, GSHS coach Rocky Whitworth, as he usually does in games that are under control, began making substitutions. After Glenwood’s defense, which held a surprisingly competitive Cortez (3-6) to no first downs in the second half, forced a punt, freshman quarterback Dante Sparaco drove his back-up unit 51 yards, including his 31-yard scoring run to kick the score up to 35-7.

But Panther running back Randy Haley, who had gained just 22 yards in 14 previous carries, broke free for a 62-yard score with 1:45 remaining. Why does this matter? Because the eventual 21-point margin of victory might cost Glenwood wild-card points in comparison to Rifle’s 52-27 win over Delta and Silver Creek’s 45-13 win over previously undefeated Mead. Those were the two teams directly behind number 13 Glenwood in the CHSAA playoff standings. Glenwood had 72.63 points, Silver Creek (6-2) 72.43, and Rifle (7-2) 72.13. Their big victories over top-ten opponents could vault them over the Demons in the standings. It is to be hoped that margin-of-victory, essentially a sportsmanship issue, is not one of the wild-card factors.

Regardless, Glenwood’s playoff hopes were in some doubt through a scoreless first quarter, and even after a 14-play, 64-yard scoring drive that consumed nearly 6 minutes at the outset of the second period. After Travis Lundin’s first touchdown of the season, from the two-yard line, the Demons were clinging to just a 7-0 halftime lead. A first-quarter threat went awry when Lundin fumbled at the Cortez 18 yard line.

Meanwhile the Glenwood defense was being tested by 190-pound junior quarterback John Walck, who rushed for four first-downs in the first quarter, until a sack by Sparaco and big hit by Cole Adams on a screen pass stopped one drive, and Chris Sarabia’s sack and a pass deflection by Justin Barham provided the field position for Glenwood’s scoring drive.

With 30 seconds left until halftime, the game was altered significantly, when Walck got up after a 10-yard run clutching an injured right arm. It was announced at halftime that sophomore Cordell Ridings would take over at quarterback. In the third quarter the Panthers punted three times, lost a fumble (recovered by Adams), and netted one yard in 13 plays.

But another lost Demon fumble, two holding penalties, an interception, and an errant 29-yard field goal attempt combined to frustrate Glenwood’s opportunity to take advantage of the futile Panther offense. Keegan Ralstin, one of only three seniors on the Cortez roster, single-handedly kept the Demons at bay, twice dragging down Hill from behind on breakaway runs and intercepting Lundin for the first time in the Demons’ 6-game winning streak.

The defense held after that pick at the Cortez 18, and Hill, who went over 100 yards for the 5th straight game, took care of the rest after a fair catch at the Panther 45. Hill gained 13 yards, and an unsportsmanlike penalty moved the ball to the 20, which the senior running back covered on the next play. Robert Hiles booted the extra point for a 14-0 lead with 31 seconds left in the third period.

In the fourth quarter, the Demons scored on their first three possessions to negate a 53-yard touchdown pass from Ridings to Ralstin that drew the Panthers within 21-7 with 6:17 to go. Cortez tried an onside kick but it dribbled through everyone, including Hill, who had to scramble back inside his own ten to retrieve the bouncing ball. Once he had it, he dashed right by the coverage and emerged from the pack near midfield, and the game was essentially over as Hill scored his 7th touchdown in the past three games.

Lundin, despite the interception, which was tipped, looked confident in the pocket, finding Adams five times for 52 yards and Barham for 4 completions and 56 yards, as well as a 19-yard scoring strike to Sarabia in the fourth quarter. Overall, Lundin was 15-for-25 for 145 yards, matching his season-high versus Palisade. Hill had his second consecutive 200-plus ground game, gaining 220 yards in 26 carries and as usual, gave credit to teammates Colton Vail, Cristian Gonzalez, Sam Carmer, Garrett Lowe, and Hiles: “This was by far the biggest team we’ve played and the offensive line got the hang of blocking those big guys.” Cortez listed five players from 230 to 320 pounds on their roster.

Glenwood, is now 5-2 (6-3 overall) and in third place in the Western Slope League, behind Palisade (8-1, 6-1 WSL) and Rifle (7-2, 6-1), and owns the tiebreaker with Delta (6-3, 5-2) due to a 15-7 win over the Panthers. Palisade’s only league loss was 42-21 to Delta, but holds first place because of a 28-27 win over the Bears. Only the league winner gets an automatic bid to the post-season, with wild-card points determining the rest of the field.

Glenwood hosts 0-9 Battle Mountain in the final regular-season game this Friday, but a trio of Demons in post-game interviews echoed a warning against what Lowe termed, coming in “a little confident” for Cortez and exhorting his team to “come back strong next week.” Sparaco seconded that motion, saying, “We need to execute better against Battle Mountain,” and Sarabia puncuated the discussion by emphasizing, “We have to buckle down if we want to win state.”