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Discovery Canyon doesn't capitalize on early chances, loses to Pueblo Central
There was no grace period for Discovery Canyon in its first football playoff appearance, though a bit of time to adjust might have helped.
Tremendous field position thrust the second-seeded Thunder into pressure situations right out of the chute against Pueblo Central. The first three possessions each resulted in wasted opportunities, however, and soon Discovery Canyon found itself playing a game of catch-up against a growing deficit as it made a first-round exit with a 24-14 loss at District 20 Stadium on Saturday.
“To not come away with the points early on was hard to swallow, but we ran into a wall with them,” said Discovery Canyon coach Shawn Mitchell, whose team's average starting field position on the first three possessions was the Pueblo Central 37. “They’re a good defense.”
Much of first 24 minutes seemed like an adjustment period for the Thunder, who were outgained 183-61 in the first half as they fell behind 18-7.
Such a performance shouldn’t have been a shock, considering Discovery Canyon (9-2) went 3-7 last season and was a postseason newcomer despite having earned the No. 2 seed. But the Thunder genuinely felt ready for the state’s biggest stage.
“Our last week’s game against Coronado was basically a playoff atmosphere,” said Thunder quarterback Alec Wirtjes, who ran for a 1-yard touchdown and connected with Steve Turner for a 46-yard touchdown pass on two scoring drives that were set up by big special teams’ plays. “They needed to win to get into the playoffs; we had to win to keep our high seed. So we knew what the playoffs were going to feel like, but Pueblo Central came ready to play.”
No. 15 Pueblo Central (8-3) orchestrated its own stunning season turnaround after also going 3-7 in 2011. The Wildcats learned something about urgency in the season’s final week when they needed a win at then-unbeaten TCA to ensure a tournament berth.
Maybe it was that intense dress rehearsal that did the trick or that the deep 3A Southern League was better than the state seeding committee recognized, because aside from some special teams miscues early that led to the field-position hole the Wildcats dominated the game.
Sophomore Nikko Valdez ran for more than 100 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Zach Andrews threw for 169 yards and three touchdowns. His four third-down completions in the third quarter allowed Pueblo Central to keep the ball away from Discovery Canyon when it desperately needed a strong south wind to aid its comeback chances.
“I’m so pumped. It’s good, because this is what our school needs right now,” Andrews said. “We need a boost for our school right now, this is going to do it.”
Discovery Canyon took the loss with the typical disappointment that accompanies what on paper looked like a major upset. But its coach was quick to add perspective.
“There’s a lot of teary eyes over there, and it’s tough,” Mitchell said. “But I think they’re going to look back on this, especially those seniors, they’re going to look back with a lot of pride. First time in school’s history (to make the playoffs) and the type of the season they had, they’ll be proud of what they accomplished.”