CHEYENNE – After a 12-play drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock, Cheyenne Central lined up to punt from its own 44-yard line tied 27-27 with Cheyenne East and just over two minutes left to play.
The Indians only passed the ball once on that drive as time ticked off the clock. However, an errant snap on the punt led to an East recovery at Central’s 16, where the Thunderbirds took possession.
With 36 seconds left, East senior running back Cade Pugh punched it in from one-yard out to give East the 33-27 advantage after the extra point was no good. The third-ranked T-Birds held on to that lead to defeat Central for the sixth-year in a row.
“We just came together as unit in that third and fourth quarter,” Pugh said. “We were stopping them defensively and we were driving the ball down the field … we had a lot confidence.”
Central made the game interesting with its final possession, though. The Indians had the ball with three seconds left from the East 40-yard line. Keagan Bartlett threw a pass to Nathanial Talich in the end zone and East’s Kaleb Romero knocked it out of Talich’s hands to secure the win and overcome a 14-point deficit.
“I don’t even remember what I was thinking there,” Romero said.
East (6-1) struck first for their first and only lead of the game besides those final 36 seconds. After holding Central to a three-and-out on the first possession of the contest, East went 59 yards to take a 6-0 advantage on a Drew Jackson fly sweep.
Central (1-6) responded in the second quarter when Bartlett found Coby Filbin up the seam on the first play of the period. Filbin took it 37 yards for the touchdown and Central took its first lead of the contest. Central’s offense found more momentum and took advantage of a short field following a failed fourth-down attempt from East. The Indians took possession at East’s 29-yard line and scored in three plays when Trace Floyd bulled in from three yards out.
The teams traded touchdowns and Central took a 20-13 lead into the break on a 10-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Bartlett to Richard Prescott.
Bartlett – the No. 1 rusher in the state at 119 yards per game – had only 14 rushing yards in the first half. That changed when he rushed for 56 yards on Central’s second possession of the second half, which led to a one-yard score from Bartlett to give the Indians a 27-13 advantage.
He only rushed for 16 yards the remainder of the game and finished with 86 rushing yards.
“They just did their jobs,” East coach Chad Goff said. “A lot of those big runs were our guys not going to the right gap but then they corrected themselves.”
The T-Birds answered with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Gavin Goff to Garet Schlabs. Trevor Eldridge intercepted a Bartlett pass on the ensuing possession and returned it deep into Indians territory. East took advantage of the short field, again, and Pugh scored from one-yard out as East tied it 27-27.
It was the first of the two big miscues East capitalized on in the second half to prevail.
“It’s turnovers and losing our heads,” Floyd said. “We had a great first half – no turnovers, up at halftime. It was really just beating ourselves and not being able to take care of the ball.”
The loss was Central’s fourth one-possession loss of the season, and second in a row giving up a halftime lead.
“It’s us and not anybody else,” Central coach Mike Apodaca said. “It’s not a lack of effort but we’re battling our own demons … we’re in our own way.
“Our defense played great for stretches and then let them off the hook, our offense played great for stretches and then turned the ball over. Special teams played great and then a snap goes over our head. That’s what we’re battling is finishing on all three levels and I have all the belief in this team to turn it around – it may take 9 weeks – but they have it in them.”
It was the fifth one possession contest the T-Birds have been in, going 4-1 in such scenarios.
“We can respond to almost anything, we’ve been put in every situation this season,” Eldridge said. “We’ve been down before and going into the locker room there wasn’t really a frenzy or panic. We were all pretty calm, cool-headed, even kill and I think we were all pretty confident in our ability to come back and win this game.”
EAST 33, CENTRAL 27
Cheyenne Central...... 0 20 7 0 – 27
Cheyenne East....... 6 7 14 6 – 33
CE: Jackson 6 run (PAT failed), 6:45
CC: Filbin 37 pass from Bartlett (Pederson kick), 11:53
CC: Floyd 3 run (PAT failed), 9:53
CE: Culver 30 pass from Goff (LaRue kick), 7:14
CC: Prescott 13 pass from Bartlett (Pederson kick), 2:28
CC: Bartlett 1 run (Pederson kick), 3:43
CE: Schlabs 13 pass from Goff (LaRue kick), 2:58
CE: Pugh 1 run (LaRue kick), 0:43
CE: Pugh 1 run (PAT failed), 0:36
Cheyenne Central: Bartlett 25-86, Porwoll 1-7, Floyd 17-80, Pederson 1 (minus-28), King 7-24. Cheyenne East: Jackson 4-9, Pugh 14-70, Schlabs 2-18, Goff 11-12, Hayes 1(minus-10).
Cheyenne Central: Bartlett 9-18-1 110. Cheyenne East: Goff 7-13 163, Hayes 2-4 18.
Cheyenne Central: Whitworth 1-11, Porwoll 3-33, Prescott 3-21, Filbin 1-36, Residorfer 1-9. Cheyenne East: Jackson 3-101, Schlabs 5-41, Culver 2-39.