Demons Suffer Heartbreaking Loss in Semi-Finals

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Taken by Jaymin Kanzer

Jaymin Kanzer, Sports Editor

Before the season even started, the Glenwood Springs Demons varsity football team knew that the playoffs would run through Rifle. On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the rival Bears dampened the day even more by upsetting the No. 1 Demons 20-17 in an overtime thriller.

An undefeated season, dominated by the running back duo of senior Garret Dollahan and junior Blake Nieslanik, ran through opponents like a hot knife through butter. The senior totaled nearly 600 yards in the shortened season and put up six touchdowns on 94 attempts this season. 

Nieslanik had his break-out season, finishing the season 99 yards short of a 1000-yard season. Nieslanik got the ball fewer times than Dollahan but turned it into 901 yards, nine touchdowns, and rushed for over 100-yards in five out of the seven games this season. 

“The fact that the team was able to spend an extra 5-6 months in the weight room to get stronger. Also my teammates, definitely couldn’t have done it without their ability to block and put in the effort.” Nieslanik said. 

The Demon’s dark horse of the season, young quarterback Joaquin Sandoval, blew away everyone’s expectations and was the leader the Demons needed to get them deep into their playoff run. 

“It never seemed like Joaquin was timid or nervous to play. Since his very first to his very last snap, he was confident in the huddle while calling plays and with his execution of the play,” Senior captain Wheatly Nieslanik said. 

Sandoval’s first start was in the most important game of the regular season, against the Basalt Longhorns. After that win, the Demons found their stride and it seemed like there was no stopping them. Sandoval waltzed into the Basalt’s home on their senior night and walked out with the Longhorns crushed hearts in his hands.

“Being able to play was already an honor so I knew playing in these big games, I had to stay composed and help the team throughout the season,” Sandoval said. 

Sandoval finished the season with 422 passing yards on 48 attempts with 34 completions, 10 touchdowns in the air, and two more on the ground. Sandoval’s unbelievable quarterback rating at the end of the season was 120.0. Quarterback rating is a stat that is based on passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions. It is on a scale of 0-158.8. For comparison, Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in QB rating this past season and he was 84.4 over the course of the 2020 regular season. 

The game started with a 75-yard kick-off by now ribless kicker Tyler Thomas that went into the endzone for a touchback as the Bears took the field for the first time of the game. A six-minute drive was capped off by a four-yard touchdown run by Rifle’s running back to go up 7-0. 

The Demons responded with a six-minute drive of their own powered by the duo of Nieslanik and Dollahan, and they finally punched it in with less than a minute left in the first quarter on a one-yard rush from Dollahan.

A great kickoff from Thomas pinned the Bears on their own 10-yard line. Rifle’s coach went for the long ball, but senior cornerback Jeffery Lowe sniffed it out. He ran with the Rifle receiver the whole way, giving him no space to leap for the ball when it got there. Lowe made an incredible leaping interception with the great positioning, basically snatching it right out of the Bears receiver’s hands, giving the Demons amazing starting field position. Another well-planned drive from the Demons, mainly on the ground brought them into the endzone fairly quickly, and the drive was finished on a pass from the freshman quarterback to Wheatly Nieslanik. The duo finished with seven completed passes during the game. 

After a recovered fumble in the Demon’s favor, it seemed like the game was at a turning point, but the Bears defense stepped up in a big way for Rifle and forced a turnover on downs. The Demons punted with under two minutes left in the first half. A huge chunk was picked up on a deep pass from the Bears quarterback that set Rifle up for a short passing touchdown to tie the game with 19 seconds left in the half. That was all the scoring during regulation. Both offenses played sloppily, and both defenses stood strong. 

Late in the third quarter, the Bears were threatening, just outside of the redzone and looking for the lead, the Bears head coach called a pass play for the back of the endzone. Something senior cornerback captain Stephen Morris saw the entire time. He cut right in front of the Rifle receiver and caught the ball in stride as he made his way up the sideline. He made it back nearly to the line of scrimmage before he was pushed out of bounds, and had the threat neutralized.

“You know sometimes when it comes down to the line you just start to realize how much practice and dedication that you put into this game and understand that you’re prepared for what you’re going to face. Therefore eliminating any fear I should have in the moment.” Morris said about how he stayed so chill. 

The game stayed knotted at 14-14, oddly enough. The Demons were in field goal range a couple of times, but aggressive plays from the Glenwood coaching staff didn’t pay off and the game stayed tied. 

High school football overtime rules are sudden death. One team starts with the ball on their opponent’s 10-yard line. If they can’t score and kick a field goal, their opponents have a chance to score. But if the first team scores a touchdown then the game is over. 

Rifle won the coin toss and decided to defer, putting trust in their defense, which paid off. Ahold on 1st and goal that went unpenalized set up two rushing attempts that brought the line of scrimmage down to the one-yard line. A strange passive field goal from the Demons gave the ball back to the Bears. Rifle did the same thing, an unsuccessful pass and two rushing plays brought the ball down to the 1-yard line. Fourth and goal, to go to the state championship game. There was so much tension in the stadium, you could cut it with a knife. As the ball was snapped to the quarterback, the crowd fell silent. Thousands of eyes glued to the ball as the Rifle runningback tried to push his way into the end zone. Everyone was so quiet watching the refs arms that you could hear a pin drop. The black and white striped arms went straight into the air to signify the touchdown and the Rifle sideline exploded. On the other side of the gridiron, the family that had been built over the course of the shortened season were consoling each other, modeling the team motto; FEO (for each other) and it really showed how strong of a bond the team made. 

19 seniors are moving on from their time at Glenwood Springs High School, including most of the offensive and defensive lines.

“A lot of players are going to have to step up next year because this was a special team and I’m just excited to see what happens these next few years,” Sandoval said. 

Rifle now goes on to face The Classic Academy for the state championship on Saturday, May 15th to decide who is the best of the shortened season.