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MEEKER — Homecoming activities are always an exciting time for high school students, athletes and communities.
This year the activities started with the annual athletic department barbecue on the courthouse lawn, followed by the parade, the pep rally and a win on the volleyball court. The day culminated with an exciting 26-25 gridiron victory over the Hayden Tigers.
With the win the Meeker Cowboys kept their state playoff chances alive for another week.
A win next week at Hotchkiss and the Cowboys could be part of a three-way tie for first place in the league with Paonia and Hotchkiss.
A loss will leave them in sole possession of third place. In years past, the Western Slope League has received three berths in the state playoffs, but with the strength of the Eastern Slope teams this year, the third berth may not be guaranteed.
Hayden has virtually been eliminated with the loss.
On a crisp fall night at Starbuck Stadium, things didn’t start out so rosy for the Cowboys. Hayden took the opening kickoff, and methodically ground out an 11 play touchdown drive that used 5:12 of the first quarter. After the kickoff, Hayden held the Cowboys to three offensive plays and forced a punt before they went on another time-consuming touchdown drive of 4:40 to go up 0-13.
One way to keep the other team from scoring is not to let them have the ball, and Hayden seemed set on keeping it away from the potent Cowboy offense by holding the ball for 10:05 of the first quarter.
Meeker though, didn’t need a lot of time after the second Hayden kickoff. Junior Mitch Jacob took quarterback Colton Brown’s handoff at the Meeker 35, sprinted left, jumped, twisted, spun, slipped tacklers, picked up a crucial block from Brock Campbell on the 20-yard line, sprinted the last 15, and dove into the end zone to culminate a 65 yard, :21 second, touchdown run. The quarter ended with the visiting Tigers up 6-13.
In the second quarter, Meeker’s defense started to dig in. The Cowboys forced a punt on Hayden’s first series of the quarter.
Cowboy quarterback Colton Brown proceeded to pick apart the Hayden secondary, finding open receivers for two big gains of 17 and 23 yards. Brown then called his own number for a one-yard score; however, Meeker’s second point after touchdown attempt failed again and the Cowboys were behind by one 12-13. Hayden tried a fake punt on their next series, but the Cowboys were ready for the play and took over on downs at the Hayden 43.
Meeker started the running game before Brown found Schindler for 31 yards, and finished the drive by hitting Schindler again for the three-yard score. Mazzola added the points after and Meeker had a 20-13 lead.
Meeker took over with 42 seconds left and completed five straight passes before turning the ball over on downs at the Hayden 11 to end the quarter.
For the second quarter, quarterback Brown was 10 of 15 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown.
The third quarter, Meeker took a page from the Tiger’s game plan as they ground out a 16-play seven-minute drive with senior Bubba Mazzola scoring from one yard out to go up 26-13.
Hayden wouldn’t give up as they marched down the field. The Tigers were helped by two defensive pass interference penalties on the Cowboys and scored with 42 seconds left in the quarter to close the gap to 26-19. With the fourth quarter looming large, Meeker went on a 12-play drive that stalled on downs at the Hayden five yard line with 5:14 left in the game. Pinned deep in their own territory, Hayden’s Logan Foster broke through the Cowboy line and appeared in the clear for a 95-yard Tiger touchdown run. Cowboy lineman Caleb Ball had other ideas as the Meeker interior lineman showed big guys can run too, and caught the Tiger running back from behind at the five yard line.
However, Hayden scored two plays later to bring the score to 26-25. Tiger quarterback Doolin’s pass on the point after failed, and Meeker maintained the slim margin. Hayden had one more chance taking the ball over on downs from the Cowboys, but Cowboy Brock Campbell intercepted the ball on the Hayden 24 and Meeker ran out the final two minutes to preserve the homecoming victory.
Around the league
Other league action found Hotchkiss in a non-league victory over the Grand Junction JV 53-6, Rangely took West Grand 40-20 and Paonia had the week off.
Next week Meeker travels to Hotchkiss.
A victory for the Cowboys may have huge implication on postseason play for Meeker. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Hotchkiss field.