Rocky Mountain saves four takeaways to upset Mountain Vista in Class 5A playoffs

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HIGHLANDS RANCH — There would still have been a CHSAA first-round playoff game on Thursday night, weather permitting.

Playoff football produces iconic moments regardless of the weather, but the Class 5A opener between 13th-seeded Mountain Vista and No. 20 Rocky Mountain proved to be a game made for the elements.

The Lobos recorded four second-half turnovers in a snowy halftime assist stadium, and behind second-string running back Cody Arnett’s two touchdowns, Rocky Mountain pulled off a 20-13 upset.

The Lobos (6-5) will face fourth-seeded Grandview in the second round. The Golden Eagles finished the 2022 campaign at 7-4.

“In my 25 years of doing this, I’ve never had a group go through so much adversity,” Lobos head coach Mark Brook said. “Our children have stuck together through it all. … It’s about overcoming adversity and being stubborn kids.

Adversity? Injuries all the way. The Lobos have been missing up to 12 players, many of whom were go-to offensive weapons. Starting quarterback Gage Brook has missed multiple games, members of a punishing offensive line have been taken out, wide receivers, and more. Even in the regular season finale, the team lost 1,400-yard rusher Abraham Chatila to a shoulder injury.

For the Fort Collins team which had a deceptive 5-5 record on Thursday, a snowstorm proved to be the break it needed from Mountain Vista’s high-octane passing attack.

When the ball kicked off at 6 p.m., a thick band of snow hampered the offensives of both teams. It was a common problem in the first trimester. Both teams kicked off their first practice, with the windy conditions also impacting position on the pitch.

On Rocky Mountain’s second practice of the game, which started on its own 40-yard line, the Lobos were able to retain possession via running, as Arnett converted on the 4th and ran early in the second quarter. Two plays later, Brook found a cutting Cole Honick for an 18-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was missed, but the Lobos took a 6-0 lead with 9:10 left in the second quarter.

At the end of the first half, even in difficult conditions, the Lobos opted to throw a manageable fourth and three.

That proved decisive, as the Golden Eagles walked down the field for a 10-play, 90-yard drive. Starting on his own 10-yard line, second-year quarterback Austin Modrzewski completed just two passes for big wins while everything else fell to the ground. With 1:51 left in the half, he found Jakhai Mack for a 35-yard strike. The extra point was missed and the teams entered the half tied at 6.

In the second half, the Rocky Mountain defense came to play, as cornerback Caleb Wolfe intercepted Modrzewski twice, with his second coming in the dying moments of the third quarter.

Shortly after, Arnett shook his legs and scored from a 1-yard dive with 11:55 left to make it 12-6. And on the ensuing practice, a Rockies defensive lineman picked up a fumble.

Four plays later, Arnett has found a seam in the middle behind his towering offensive line, which includes BYU senior Ethan Thomason, dubbed the “Pancake Platoon.” Arnett, who played junior college for a few games this year, found his footing and sprinted 35 yards for the score. A two-point conversion was good to make it 20-6 with 6:18 remaining.

“At the start of the season I was swinging (between) JV and college and was told ‘you have to get used to the speed of college’ and halfway through the season I caught up with that” , Arnett said. “…Having reached that speed helped (tonight).”

Modrzewski responded, moving the ball well for Mountain Vista on an 8-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Sean Conway scoring from close range. After a fourth and short save, the Golden Eagles had one final possession, but the Lobos knocked out Modrzewski in the end zone on a late heave with 3.5 seconds left.

“Nine of our guys are sophomores or younger on offense, and while it hurts, we’re going to learn from that,” Mountain Vista head coach Garrett Looney said.

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