LITTLETON | Two late touchdowns made the final scoreboard look close at the end of Saturday night’s Class 5A first round state playoff, but the Cherokee Trail football team can’t help but think what could have been if not for five turnovers.
The Cougars saw the Heritage defense intercept four passes and recover a fumble on a frigid night at Littleton Public Schools Stadium that helped the fourth-seeded Eagles build a 19-0 lead and hold off a late rally by fifth-seeded Cherokee Trail.
Junior quarterback Conner Nantkes bounced back from the spate of turnovers to engineer two touchdown drives late in the final quarter, with senior Quincey Voss rushing for a score and sophomore Dylan James bringing in a touchdown pass with two seconds remaining, but the Cougars’ season came to an end at 5-5.
Though the season ended in the first round just like last season, coach Monte Thelen’s team improved by two wins and got back on track after an atypical 2014 season following a 5A semifinal appearance in 2013.
Heritage improved to 8-2 and moved into the second round, where it will face top-seeded Columbine (10-0), which downed No. 8 Overland in the first round.
Senior Tim Pless made a nice catch of a 20-yard touchdown pass from Chase Hansen on a fourth-and-11 to put the Eagles on the scoreboard in the opening period and Heritage cashed in an interception on the next drive to extend the lead.
Set up at the Cherokee Trail 38, the Eagles scored in nine plays when senior Daejour Haynes darted through traffic and into the end zone from six yards out.
The Cougars tried to get on the scoreboard in the closing minute of the first half, but Nantkes was sacked and the ball stripped from him, with Heritage pouncing on it and running out the half.
The Eagles went 72 yards and scored on sophomore Tyler Zoesch’s 2-yard run at the end of the third quarter.
Cherokee Trail tried to respond and drove into the red zone early in the fourth quarter, but Nantkes’ pass was tipped and intercepted to keep the margin 19 points.
The Eagles would intercept Nantkes again on the next possession, but turned the ball over on downs despite good field position and the Cougars marched 86 yards for their first score using healthy doses of Voss and Max Gonzales on the ground and high percent passes from Nantkes.
A quick hold and Cherokee Trail got the ball back and moved 67 yards in just 37 seconds to score on James’ touchdown catch.
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(4) HERITAGE 19, (5) CHEROKEE TRAIL 14
Score by quarters:
Cher. Trail 0 0 0 14 — 14
Heritage 7 6 6 0 — 19
Heritage — Tim Pless 20 yard pass from Chase Hansen (Alex Motler kick), 5:52
Heritage — Daejour Haynes 6 yard run (kick failed), 6:28
Heritage — Tyler Zoesch 2 yard run (kick failed), 1:19
Cherokee Trail — Quincey Voss 1 yard run (Ryan Sullivan kick)
Cherokee Trail — Dylan James 26 yard pass from Conner Nantkes (Sullivan kick), 0:02