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RANGELY I For the first time in almost a decade, the Rangely Panthers football team advanced to the state playoffs and although they lost to the Kiowa Indians (13-40) in the first round of the Colorado A-8 State Championship playoffs, second-year head coach Paul Fortunato is proud of his team and thankful for his senior leadership.
“It meant a lot for our seniors to have come from the bottom and make it to the state playoffs and it was big step for our program and for our younger kids to see,” Fortunato said. “It was a hard-hitting game, played at a different level and our younger kids now know they have to continue to work hard and get better so they can play at that level.”
The Panthers traveled east of Castle Rock to Kiowa for last Saturday’s game and led at halftime but two big plays in the second half gave momentum and the win to Kiowa.
Kiowa was the only team to score in the first quarter and Rangely tied the score at six early in the second after senior Chas Byerly recovered a fumble and classmate Tobie Gasper ran it in from 15 yards out.
Kiowa would take the lead again by a touchdown but Gasper and Byerly teamed up again, this time on a pass and a catch for a 65-yard touchdown and Ryan Wilzcek’s extra point kick gave the Panthers a 13-12 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Rangely couldn’t move the ball and Kiowa returned two punts for touchdowns on their way to scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half.
“They gave it all they had and left it all on the field, I was proud of them,” Fortunato said.
It was the final game for seniors Byerly, Gasper, Bryson Palacios, Gabe Garcia, Tobie Gasper, Colton Coombs and JoD Stults.
“The seniors left a mark and are irreplaceable,” Fortunato said. “They left a standard we can build on and the future looks bright for Rangely football.”