Yuma football reclaims Harvest Cup, playoff berth
Yuma High School football is returning to November Saturday afternoons for the first time in six years.
While Friday Nigh Lights are just fine in September and October, it’s those Saturday afternoons that make a season extra special.
“It’s been a long time coming,” second-year head coach Kelly Seward said.
The Indians rolled past Wray, 27-7, last Friday, for just the program’s third win over its ancient rival in the past 11 seasons. That left them 6-3, their best record since the Tribe’s last playoff appearance in 2013, assuring them of a postseason berth.
Yuma ended up 10th in the 16-team Class 1A playoff field.
The Indians will play seventh-seed Colorado Springs Christian, 7-2, Saturday at 1 p.m. at picturesque Mountain Lion Field on the UCCS campus. (The weather forecast earlier this week called for sunny skies and a high in mid-60s.)
It will be the program’s first playoff game since losing at Limon in the quarterfinals six years ago.
“We’re finally a part of a winning team,” senior Alec Holtorf said. “Us seniors have been working up toward this all these years and it’s finally happening…I think we just believe in each other holding the rope. We’ve got each other’s backs.”
The five losses between Yuma and Colorado Springs Christian have come against other playoff-qualifying teams. Colorado Springs Christian lost to No. 2 Holyoke 21-6 in the season opener, and fell to Florence 13-10 in their league championship game last Friday. (Florence, the sixth seed, hosts Wray on Saturday.)
Yuma lost at Flatirons Academy in a non-league game in September, then opened North Central Conference play with losses to Holyoke and No. 3 Limon in early October.
However, the Indians have run off three straight wins since to finally get back to Saturday afternoons in November.
“I’m excited to keep going,” senior Manny Tena said. “One game at a time.”
Seward said the staff watched plenty of game film on the Lions over the weekend, and came away respecting their size and speed.
“Their fullback is a bruiser, he’s rushed for more than 1,100 yards, and their quarterback and tailback are fast and will make you miss,” he said. “They run out of the wishbone, and then they’ll spread you out to get the ball to their fullback.”
The fullback would be Peyton Brones, 5-foot-10, 205 pounds, with 1,106 rushing yards. Tailback Joe Dunn has 706 rushing yards, and quarterback Caleb Stockton has rushed for 317 yards and thrown for 760.
Yuma counters with a 1-2 punch of senior bruiser Cayden Lynch and sophomore speedster Clay Robinson, along with Roland Caraveo and Chase McCreath creating more variety in the running game. McCreath has not thrown much, but has been accurate during the recent three-game winning streak, with Robinson, Caraveo and Creighton Eyring being among his main targets.
“The three keys are creating turnovers, controlling the clock and controlling the line of scrimmage,” Seward said, “and controlling the clock and the line of scrimmage is what this offense does.
“We’ve got to be the more physical team Saturday,” he continued. “We have to go hit them in the mouth.”
The NCC leads all of 1A with four teams in the 16-team playoff field. The way the seeding worked out, all four are on the same side of the bracket.
Undefeated Holyoke, which beat Limon 14-12 for the NCC title last Friday night, is the No. 2 seed, while Limon — whose only losses are to top-seed Strasburg and Holyoke — is the third seed, with Yuma at No. 10 and Wray at No. 11.
Holyoke hosts No. 15 Rocky Ford on Saturday, Limon hosts No. 14 Rye, and Wray is at No. 6 Florence.
It sets up the potential for all-NCC quarterfinals and semifinal in the lower half of the bracket. However, while Holyoke and Limon will be prohibitive favorites in the first round, it would take some gutsy road wins by the Yuma County teams on Saturday to make that happen. If all four were to win, Yuma would play Holyoke in Yuma on November 16, and Wray would host Limon the same day.
“Hey, get a second chance at Holyoke, and at home, why not,” Seward said. “However, it doesn’t matter if we can’t get past Colorado Springs Christian. This week is all we’re worried about right now.”
“I want to win this round, come back home and get Holyoke here,” Holtorf said. “That would be awesome.”
Tena stressed the need to take it one game at a time, but added “I’d be happy to win a state championship.”
Beat rival Wray for Harvest Cup
The Yuma High School football team opened North Central Conference play with blowout losses to Holyoke and Limon by a combined 71-0.
However, they closed out NCC play with three straight wins by a combined 77-19, including last Friday’s 27-7 win over rival Wray. It was the Indians’ first win over the purple Eagles since 2014, and just the third since the introduction of the Harvest Cup in 2009.
“It’s been pretty fun lately,” head coach Kelly Seward said.
It definitely was not about one month ago as the Indians were sitting at 3-3 overall, 0-2 in NCC, following the blowout losses to two of the top three teams in all of 1A.
“We were star-struck,” Seward said. “We weren’t ready for the moment, and that fell on us as coaches.”
However, the Indians stuck together, first grinding out a 16-6 win at Wiggins.
Even after that, though, they still had two major roadblocks between them and their goal of the playoffs, long-time nemesis Burlington and Wray. While neither were overwhelmingly powerful this season — Burlington finished the regular season 3-6 and Wray 5-4 — the challenge was as much mental as it was physical as both had mostly dominated the Tribe over a long stretch.
The Indians were up to the challenge, beating Burlington 34-6 before last Friday’s rivalry win over Wray.
“Wiggins was the trap game,” Seward said. “Once we got through that, we knew we had a chance. We just took it week by week. Wray Week wasn’t Wray Week until it was Wray Week.”
And now it is Playoff Week as the 10th-seed Indians travel to seventh-seed Colorado Springs Christian on Saturday for the program’s first postseason appearance since 2013, and just the third playoff berth since winning the 1A title in 2009.
Piles of snow lined the field as Yuma hosted Wray for the first time since 2016, the last two meetings taking place in Wray. It was in the low-30s at kickoff, but at least the wind stayed down, and those willing to brave the elements were treated to another fun Yuma County Showdown.
It did not start out well for the home team as Yuma got the ball first, and decided to go for it on fourth-and-two at its own 30-yard line. The Eagles stuffed the attempt for no gain.
Predictably, the Eagles took advantage of the short field to eventually score, though it did not come easy as it took several plays, finally capped by Junior Arambula’s two-yard TD run on third-and-goal. The extra-point kick was good and Wray led 7-0 less than 5 minutes into the game.
“We got greedy,” Seward said of himself and the other coaches, “but luckily the kids made us look all right in the end.”
The Indians, with their newfound mental toughness, immediately answered Wray’s score as Clay Robinson sprinted down Wray’s sideline for a 60-yard touchdown run on Yuma’s next drive. Alex Lozano kicked the extra point and the teams were tied at 7-7.
Senior cornerback Alec Holtorf then made a big hit along the Wray sideline on the Eagles’ next drive, sending the message the Indians were going to be just as physical, it not even more so.
“I saw him coming and I was like ‘I’m going to hit him hard,’” Holtorf said. “I don’t want anyone to get past me.”
Wray failed converting a fourth down at Yuma’s 39, and Yuma punted on fourth down at Wray’s 35.
Wray took over on its own 5 yard line, gained 10 yards on its first play, but then a bad snap sailed over quarterback Dodsworth’s head, with him recovering it at the 1-yard line. (It looked like it could have been a safety, but the referees ruled it just out of the end zone.)
Yuma got the ball back at Wray’s 45, barely converted a fourth-and-two, then took advantage of it with Chase McCreath connecting with Creighton Eyring down the middle of the field for a 30-yard gain to Wray’s five.
Wray’s defense held strong, though, forcing a fourth-and-1. Yuma called a quarterback sneak, and Yuma got just enough momentum in the ensuing scrum to get McCreath across the goal line for a 14-7 lead with 15 seconds left in the first half.
The teams traded possessions early in the third, including Yuma losing a fumble, but Robinson eventually broke off a 29-yard run. Cayden Lynch followed with another big gain, but fumbled, but Blaze Brophy was on the spot to make the recovery and keep Yuma’s drive alive.
Robinson capped it off with a 20-yard TD run, and Lozano’s extra-point kick gave Yuma a 21-7 lead with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left in the third.
Erying came up with an interception early in the fourth, returning it to Wray’s 30. McCreath was sacked and fumbled, but Jose Ruiz came up with a sack on Wray’s next play, followed by Joey Ross returning an interception to the Wray 4-yard line.
Lynch scored from there to give the Indians a 27-7 lead with under 3 minutes left.
Holtorf then iced it with an interception in the end zone on Wray’s last gasp.
All that was left then was the celebrating.
“When we finally knew we were going to win with a couple of minutes left, it was fun,” Seward said. “We have a bunch of seniors that deserve it.”
The coach had said during the week leading up to the big game that the Indians had to win the battle in the trenches. That they did, totaling 272 offensive yards while holding Wray to 140. The blocking and the defense has been a total team effort down the stretch of the regular season.
“I wouldn’t trade blocking for anything, laying people out,” senior Manny Tena said. “The O-line is doing a great job blocking, and the running backs are running hard.”
Yuma rushed for 229 yards, and passed for another 43. Wray, which lost starting quarterback Tyler Collins to an injury the week before, ran for 118 and passed for 22. Yuma held a slight edge in time of possession and in first downs. Wray had three turnovers, all interceptions, and Yuma lost two fumbles.
Robinson ran for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, while Lynch had 66 yards and one TD on 21 carries, McCreath 16 yards and one TD, and Rolando Caraveo eight yards. McCreath completed two of his four passes, one for 30 yards to Eyring and one to Robinson for 13.
Defensively, Eyring, Ross and Holtorf each had an interception. Yahir Trejo was in on seven total tackles, McCreath seven, Lars Sims seven, Robinson six, Caraveo five, Ruiz five, Lynch five, Lane Remmich five, Holtorf three, Eyring two, Ross two, Christian Quezada two, Brophy two, Logan Schulte two, Louden Blach two, and J Gordo and Gabe Schulte one each.
Seward pointed out that the ability to platoon linemen on offense and defense is paying big dividends.
“Give this to the coaches and (athletic director Michael) Dischner because we’ve created depth thanks to all the JV games we’ve played the last two years” he said. “That wears teams out at this level.”
The coach noted that the JV went 7-1 this year, and the Yuma junior high team went 5-2, barely losing in the league championship game.
“If there’s not a little excitement for Yuma football right now, I don’t know if there ever will be,” he said.
There will be plenty of excitement when the Tribe takes the field Saturday afternoon in Colorado Springs.