Niwot denies Bulldogs’ dreams |

Niwot denies Bulldogs’ dreams

Moffat County ends season with a 10-2 mark

David Pressgrove

Michael Babb had to break the silence. The locker room was just too quiet.

“I can’t take this any more,” he said.

The Moffat County High School senior lineman turned on the stereo behind him and with what little voice he had left, he sang along to Sister Hazel’s “All for You.”

“It’s hard to say what it is I see in you, I wonder if I’ll always be with you … It’s all for you.” He sang the traditional post-game tune with a raspy voice.

As Babb sang, mud, sweat and tears from his teammates fell to the locker room floor.

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It was the last time the 2004 Bulldog football team would be together in the locker room. The Niwot Cougars had just ended the season with a 22-12 win in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A state playoffs.

“We just came up a little bit short,” senior Kellan Moore said. “I don’t know if we could have asked for much more.”

Early on, it looked as if Moore’s post-game interview would have been about playing in the semifinals next week.

Moore and company got the hometown crowd behind the Bulldogs early with the game’s first score. Senior Jared Lowther set up the touchdown with a 43-yard punt return to the Cougar’s 18-yard line. Senior Daniel Tague ran to the six-yard line on the next play. It then took the Bulldogs four carries to move six yards, but with 5:07 remaining, senior Scott Garoutte reached the end zone.

The next play would come back to haunt the Bulldogs, when a high snap threw off the timing of the extra point and it was blocked.

The 6-0 lead for Moffat County was the third time this season that Niwot had trailed. The Cougars wouldn’t trail for long.

The Cougars uncharacteristically went to the ground and drove 65 yards on 10 straight carries. On fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line Senior Matt Braman broke two tackles and dove into the end zone as time expired in the first quarter. Senior quarterback Clint Stapp found senior Aaron Watson in the end zone for the 2-point conversion to go up 8-6.

Niwot would never relinquish the lead.

“We had a feeling that it might be tough to throw so we worked on the run this week,” Niwot coach Ron Tesone said. “Our big guys carrying the ball did an outstanding job.”

Neither team moved the ball in the second quarter until the Cougars found their passing rhythm with 2:30 left.

Stapp connected on four consecutive passes for 47 yards and the Cougars were threatening to go up by two touchdowns at the half. Lowther made another big play by intercepting a Stapp pass with 42 seconds remaining.

The third quarter on offense didn’t start well for Moffat County. An illegal procedure call doomed their first drive and they went three and out.

After Niwot took over, senior Tyler Pike intercepted a Stapp pass on fourth and eight from the 32. Pike’s natural instinct to catch the ball cost the Bulldogs though, because instead of knocking it down and gaining possession on the 32 he was tackled on the 10. Another illegal procedure call backed the Bulldogs to the five.

Pike had his punt blocked four plays later and the Cougars took over at the 13-yard line.

The short field was to Niwot’s advantage and again the Cougars went to the ground. Four plays later Braman scored his second touchdown of the game.

“We did the shift punt one too many times,” lineman Stetson Otero said of the punt play in which Pike received the ball on the run and kicked it. “By the third time they had figured it out and it cost us a touchdown.”

The third quarter ended with the Cougars up, 15-6.

The Bulldogs looked to be ready to answer back on their next possession when they drove to the Cougars’ 7-yard line. But the Cougar defense stopped the momentum by stopping the ‘Dogs on their first two plays.

On third-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Niwot senior Sean Ratliff stepped in front of a pass from junior quarterback Derek Duran and ran the interception back to the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line where Moore made a shoestring tackle with 9:32 left in the game.

“Derek played a great game and fought through some tough licks,” coach Kip Hafey said. “The ball slipped from his hand and their player was in the right place at the right time.”

The short-field advantage paid off for the Cougars again.

It took nine plays but Braman found his way into the end zone for the third time with 4:55 left in the game.

The Cougars went up by two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions 22-6.

“Sean Ratliff is an outstanding athlete and he made the big play for us today,” Stapp said. “His interception was the difference maker.”

Despite being down 16 points, the Bulldogs weren’t done.

A 22-yard run by Duran on fourth down and a 23-yard pass to junior Kevin Loughran had the Bulldogs in scoring position with 3:49 left. Sixteen seconds later, Duran found Scott Garoutte wide open in the end zone.

The two point conversion failed, which meant that the Bulldogs still had to score two times, trailing 22-12.

“It all goes back to the first missed kick,” Hafey said.

“We make that and then we kick after our second score and we’re down eight points instead of 10. Then we kick long on the kickoff and still have a great chance,” he said.

Down two scores Moffat had to go for the onside kick with 3:31 remaining in the game. The Cougars recovered the kick.

On the ensuing drive Niwot couldn’t move the ball and turned the ball over on downs on their own 45-yard line.

Duran found Loughran again for 20 yards to keep the Bulldog’s slim chances alive.

But that pass would be Duran’s last completion of the game. The junior’s final pass of the 2004 season slipped through the hands of a diving Pike in traffic on fourth down.

“We could have won it,” Garoutte said.

“There were just a couple of plays that we beat ourselves.”

The linebacker and fullback said his team was surprised by how much the Cougars ran the ball.

“We weren’t prepared for the run,” he said. “We worked on passing all week.”

Niwot out-rushed the Bulldogs 187 to 138.

“Our big horses did the job today,” Tesone said. “We played an excellent team today, but we made the two or three big plays to make the difference in such a good game.”

Stapp said he hopes to get to throw the ball in the semifinal game against Rifle, who whipped Conifer 38-22.

“We were confident in our passing, but the ball was slipping a bit,” he said. “Moffat County gave us everything they had and they were the best team we’ve faced.”

The Bulldogs wished they had brought more.

“(Niwot) was well prepared for us,” Babb said. “I was impressed with how they handled themselves.”

Garoutte was pleased with the final efforts of his teammates.

“My last memories are of us fighting back hard the fourth quarter,” he said.

“We never gave up, and it’s the best I’ve seen our line play this season.”

Hafey had similar thoughts.

“I was absolutely pleased with our effort,” Hafey said.

“This was the first time this year that we played somebody bigger than us and we have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said.

Babb was disappointed but proud.

“I’m proud of my (football) family and I wouldn’t have wanted to play with anybody else this year,” he said.

Then he walked out of the locker room, most likely with the lyrics from Sister Hazel in his head.

“Words can’t say, and I can’t do enough to prove it’s all for you.”

How fitting.

The Bulldogs gave their all for each other this year, and while it didn’t end like they had hoped, they did prove they were a special group.

One of the best Moffat County has seen on the gridiron.

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