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Vista Ridge knocks off Pine Creek in changing of guard
Wolves post convincing 40-14 victory
Welcome to the new world order in Colorado Springs football.
It’s hard to draw any other conclusions after Vista Ridge’s 40-14 waxing of Pine Creek, a victory that the Wolves had waited for since launching their varsity program three years ago.
“It’s awesome,” Wolves senior linebacker Jacob Hawthorne said. “They’re supposed to be the No. 1 team in Colorado Springs. There’s a new dog in town, I guess.”
Hawthorne and the defense forced five turnovers, Brandon Cartagena scored three touchdowns and, with the exception of a few tense moments in the third quarter when Pine Creek cut it to within 13 points and had the ball inside the Vista Ridge 20, the night completely belonged to the Wolves (4-0, 1-0 Pikes Peak).
“We weren’t surprised,” Cartagena said. “We knew if we came with heart and with everything we had that they were beatable. So, we did. We played with heart and it happened.”
Cartagena opened the scoring with a 56-yard reception from fellow senior Brayden Stewart. He added rushing scores in the second and fourth quarters.
Things could have gone completely different if not for a couple of plays Stewart made in third-and-long situations in the first quarter. Three times Vista Ridge faced at least 15 yards to go and Stewart helped it convert each time as it built a 14-0 lead against a Pine Creek team already reeling after three close losses to 5A powers.
“I honestly am completely speechless,” said Stewart, who completed four passes of at least 19 yards in the first half. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this proud of my teammates before.”
Pine Creek (0-4, 0-1) has lost five in a row dating to last year’s 4A state championship game. The Eagles replaced all 11 offensive starters this year yet gave close scares to Fountain-Fort Carson, Lakewood and Columbine.
Still, this is Pine Creek — the perennial juggernaut that hadn’t lost to an area opponent since 2008 before this year’s opener against the Trojans.
Coach Todd Miller offered no excuses.
“Athletics can bring the best out of you and the worst out of you,” Miller said. “Hopefully through all this we can find a bright spot and find some positives.
“We got beat tonight by a better team, a more athletic team and a team that wanted it more — and we were outcoached. They wanted it more. Very humbling.”
Vista Ridge lost a giant senior class as well, then overcame a bizarre near-coaching change when a new hire was initially brought in to replace Les Johnson before word of an alleged past incident led the Wolves to change course and remove the interim label from Johnson’s title.
Johnson had been promoted just before last season after another strange move, as former coach Dean Huffman was fired three days before the start of practice.
Through it all most of the coaching staff remained intact and here the program is now, owner of a rare 26-point victory over Pine Creek.
“I’m happy, but I’m mostly happy for the guys,” Johnson said. “They did the work, I just coach.”
If you somehow don’t buy Fridays’ result as axis-shaking where area football is concerned, consider the overall resume the Wolves have put up in short order. They are 23-5 as a varsity program, with two of those losses coming to out-of-state competition, two coming in the playoffs and the other in their first varsity game while playing up in classification.
The rest of the games have largely looked like Friday, including all four this year since moving up to 4A. But there was always that caveat that the Wolves hadn’t done it against Pine Creek.
Now they have.
“We had an opportunity,” Hawthorne said. “And we took complete advantage of it.”