KMTS FOOTBALL: Glenwood Hangs on to Topple Conifer, 17-16

GLENWOOD SPRINGS(9/5/14) – “There is no more room for gray hairs on my head,” Glenwood coach Rocky Whitworth said after his team won its first game of the 2014 season, 17-16, over 11th-ranked perennial playoff power Conifer.

There were a couple other noteable firsts, besides the Demons knotting their record at 1-1, in the home opener that wasn’t decided until Conifer (1-1) failed on a two-point conversion with 12 seconds remaining in the game. Sophomore quarterback Dante Sparaco recorded his first win as a starting quarterback as well as throwing his first touchdown pass, with 46 seconds left in the first half when Chase Nieslanik used his 6-3 height to outjump two defenders for the 20-yard score.

“I just floated it up there and, Chase jumped over two corners and made me look like an All-American,” Sparaco, who was 12-of-17 passing for 186 yards in the first half, but just 0-for-2 after halftime.

Glenwood began the contest with a strong drive that picked up three first downs to the Lobo 20, mixing passes to Evrett Marr and runs by Marr and Sparaco. But the Demons could gain just four yards in three running plays and Robert Hiles’ 33 yard field goal, while plenty high and long enough, was just wide right, just over four minutes into the first quarter.

Seconds later, the Demons’ had a bad case of déjà-vu when Kalib Geer’s 79-yard touchdown run on Conifer’s 2nd play gave the Lobos a 7-0 lead with 7:10 remaining in the quarter. Last week, Glenwood fell behind Eire on the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage, so Demon fans could be excused for thinking, “Oh, no. Here we go again.”

The Demons tried to answer that score with another impressive drive, keyed by a 45-yard pass to Marr for a 1st down at the Lobo 21, and Sparaco broke free to the 8 –yard line on the next play, only to have it called back by a penalty. A 7-yard sack on 2nd down and dropped pass forced the Demons to punt.

The defense kept getting the ball back, forcing punts on the Lobos next six possessions through halftime, even after a lost fumble on one of them gave Conifer the ball at midfield. The offense finally completed a 7-play, 81-yard drive, with Sparaco running for a 9 yard TD with 2:29 left in the second quarter, tying the game on Hiles’ PAT. The score was set up by a 50-yard screen pass that Luke Prosence broke down the left sideline on 3rd-and-11 from the Demon 41.

Glenwood got the ball back at their 40 with 1:54 left in the half, but Sparaco was sacked to the 33 before Prosence slipped through the middle on a draw play for 18 yards to midfield. Marr took a pass down to the 20 where Nieslanik’s catch gave the Demons a 14-7 halftime lead.

Without the 79 yard run by Geer, Glenwood outgained Conifer 284-to-44 in total yards in the first half and rolled up 12 first downs to just one for the Lobos, but Conifer reversed that momentum in the third quarter. It was Conifer putting together the long drives, though the Demon defense held off a couple of red zone threats. A 4th-and-2 quarterback keeper by Vaughn Brasseaux, who had caught a previous 4th-down, 23 yard-pass from backup QB Matt Aceto, came up short with 5:45 to go in the period.

Glenwood, meanwhile, failed to get a first down on either possession of the quarter, netting just 4 yards on 6 plays, and a 22-yard punt by Nieslanik gave Conifer excellent field position at the Demon 47 with 3:55 to play. Brasseaux completed a 3rd-down pass for 13 yards to the 30, and after Sparaco – in on defense for the first time this season – sacked him for a 5 yard loss, a horse collar penalty provided another set of downs at the GSHS 11. A keeper by Brasseaux moved the ball to the four, when Geer fumbled and Robert Hiles recovered to stop the drive with less than a minute left in the quarter.

Backed up on its own three yard line, Glenwood ran a couple plays and faced 3rd-and-6 when the 4th quarter began. Sparaco induced encroachment by the Lobos, then just did get the one yard for the first at his 14. The 6-4, 226 sophomore ran for two more first downs, including a 3rd-and-1 at the 35 before Marr got loose around the left side for a 21-yard burst to the Lobo 32. A defensive holding penalty negated a 7-yard sack that left Sparaco hobbling, but he stayed in the game.

At this point, the first-half troubles near the red zone were revived, with a bobbled snap and a fumble on an exchange, moving Glenwood from the Lobo 7 to the 17. Hiles came on and Marr got a shaky snap down for the senior kicker who booted a career-best, 35-yard field goal through the uprights for a 17-10 lead with 5:56 left in the contest.

“I just have to trust my teammates and do my best to put it through,” Hiles said of the short snap that might have caused him to vary his footwork. “I watched him (Hiles) do it (make a kick from that distance) before the game and figured he could do it again,” Whitworth said of sending Hiles in for the 35-yarder.

Conifer’s Richie Benson returned the kickoff 40 yards to midfield and a 15-yard penalty against the Demons helped the Lobos reach the Glenwood 30 where Aceto connected with Brasseaux for 25 yards to the five. Easton Gaddis, Myles Wilson, and Nieslanik responded with key hits to force a Conifer time out before 4th-and-5. The Lobos sent Jake Romero out to boot a 24-yard field goal, closing to within 17-10 with 4:02 remaining.

The onside kick was covered by Shane Cleverenga, but three running plays left the Demons with a 4th-and-one at the Lobo 44. After a time out to consider going for it, Whitworth decided to have Nieslanik punt and the senior nailed a beauty that died on the Conifer 4-yard line.

But Aceto came out firing and with no time outs, drove the Lobos 96 yards, including 4-straight passes for first downs, beginning with a 12-yard completion on 4th-and-4 from his own 10-yard line. The aerial march concluded with a 3-yard touchdown toss to Benson with 12 seconds remaining. In a baffling decision after Aceto completed 7 straight passes (excepting two spikes to kill the clock), Conifer switched to Brasseaux for a two-point conversion try to win the game. Perhaps the thinking was the 5-9, 187 senior was more of a dual threat to run or pass than the 6-2, rail-thin Aceto, whose only run lost two yards.

Brasseaux took the snap and shuffled to his left, looking for Benson in the end zone, but the pass didn’t have enough zip on it and bounced, giving the Demons a chance to sing their winning fight song before a roaring crowd.

“I am happy for our guys,” Whitworth said after the victory. “We had a lot of nice drives that didn’t pay off, but showed resilience. That 96-yard yard drive, and going for two to win the game – I love it!”

After the game, Hiles wasn’t the only one singing the praises of Marr, a senior co-captain, who, in addition to catching 8 passes for 106 yards and rushing for 67 in 9 attempts, was the holder for extra points and field goals, played safety, and returned six punts. “Evrett is the best athlete on our team,” Sparaco said, and coach Whitworth adding, “He’s just a motor out there – a great leader for us.”

Sparaco, who ran for 135 yards last week, had just 68, but got help from Marr and Prosence, who had 55 yards on 10 carries, but for the second straight game, Glenwood had five fumbles, though they lost just one.

Next Friday, the Demons travel to Brush to meet the number-one ranked 2A Beetdiggers, who defeated Weld Central last week, 54-0. Brush was runner up to Faith Christian in the 2A state championship last season.