Joel Priest/Pine River Times
Joel Priest/Pine River Times
When the final horn sounded, Platte Valley senior linebacker Adam Bethel headed right for Bayfield’s TJ Pazell near midfield.
Bethel, like a brother from another world, embraced the grass-stained Bayfield senior like only a brother can.
With the Platte Valley home crowd celebrating a dominating 31-6 victory over Bayfield in Saturday’s Class 2A state football semifinal, the two senior captains patted each other on the helmet and went their separate ways.
“He told me we played a good game. He said we played ... hard,” Pazell said of the friendly postgame exchange.
“He called me a hoss.”
Quite a compliment coming from a Bronco.
Pazell earned his new moniker after carrying the football a career-high 34 times Saturday against Platte Valley’s big and boisterous defense.
He finished with 124 hard yards rushing and Bayfield’s only touchdown in the playoff game – an 11-yard run at the end of a 17-play, 80-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
“This is the last football game of my life. I gave it everything I had,” said an exhausted Pazell, refusing to take off his trusty purple helmet.
“They ... are a good football team,” he said. “I think we could have won, but we just didn’t execute like we needed to.”
Pazell also stepped in front of a Logan Sitzman pass for an interception midway through the fourth quarter, setting up the Wolverines for another possible score.
But in an apropos ending to a turnover-deciding game, the Platte Valley defense (Cody Gabel) forced and recovered a Bayfield fumble, ending the playoff contest at 31-6.
“They are tough. That’s all I have to say,” Bayfield senior defensive back Ian Sandrey said. “They are the real deal.”
He said Sitzman, the elusive Platte Valley junior quarterback, did an excellent job leading the Broncos’ no-huddle, option-read spread offense.
“He knows how to get that team rolling. He read our defense very well,” said Sandrey, son of Carl and Karen Rhodes and Ryan Sandrey.
The slender Sitzman, 5-11 and 145 pounds, put the Broncos ahead on their first series with a 30-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Daniel Franz. He added the 2-point conversion on a scrambling run after a bad center snap on the kick attempt.
Only four plays later, Platte Valley extended the lead when Jake Smith blocked Pazell’s rugby-stye punt, and he recovered the football in the end zone for a Broncos’ touchdown.
With the booming conversion kick by Bailey Collins-Landwehr, the Broncos led 15-0 before the huge crowd of Wolverines fans could get their lungs warmed up.
And the Broncos weren’t finished.
Frantz intercepted an Allec Rodriguez pass and returned it 33 yards to set up a 29-yard field goal by Collins-Landwehr and an 18-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Yet another turnover, a strip and a recovery by defensive stalwart Dillon Joens (6-5, 215), set up Platte Valley for a final first-half score.
After Evon Frantz ran an inside counter play for 29 yards, Sitzman concluded the six-play, 47-yard drive with a 15-yard keeper for a touchdown that faked out nearly everyone in the Platte Valley stadium in Kersey, just east of Greeley.
Bayfield’s defense held the deficit at 24-0 with a goal-line stand right before halftime, stopping an 11-play drive short of the end zone. Joe Zink, Sandrey and a host of BHS defenders stopped Platte Valley’s Caleb Creech a half-yard from the goal line.
Creech, however, could not be stopped in the third quarter when he bisected the Bayfield defense on a 44-yard touchdown run right up the middle, giving Platte Valley a 31-0 lead with 2 minutes, 47 seconds to play in the third quarter.
“It was important that we scored,” said Rodriguez, who was forced to play quarterback the entire game Saturday. Starter Matt Knickerbocker missed the playoff game because of effects of a concussion suffered during Bayfield’s playoff victory over Faith Christian last weekend.
“We didn’t want to get shut out. We had some hard memories of getting shut out last year (in the state championship loss to Florence),” said Rodriguez, who rescued the Wolverines with his impromptu performance at quarterback last week.
“We were battling hard. We just wanted to put some points on the board,” said Rodriguez, son of Ramona and TJ Nava and Johnny Rodriguez.
“On film, those guys didn’t seem as quick as they showed (Saturday),” he said. “They fought hard, they showed up, and they played well.”
Led by all-stater Raul Rios, the 6-3, 265-pound state heavyweight wrestling champion, the Platte Valley defense held the Wolverines (11-1) out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.
Bayfield did rush for 234 yards as a team. Rodriguez was 3 of 8 passing for 24 yards with one interception.
Sitzman, who rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries for Platte Valley, passed for 133 yards, completing 9 of 17 with one touchdown and Pazell’s interception.
“He (Sitzman) had good command of his offense,” Bayfield head coach Gary Heide said of Sitzman. “That’s a tribute to their coaching staff. He was able to read on the read option. He kept us back on our heels.”
The physical Platte Valley defense limited the Wolverines’ options.
“We couldn’t get the option part of our triple option going,” the Wolverines’ first-year head coach said.
Heide said he was proud of the way the Wolverines responded in the second half with a long scoring drive and two takeaways from the Broncos.
“That’s the character of this team ... that drive,” Heide said. “It’s a tribute to those senior linemen.”
Austin McMenimen, Jon Roberts, Nate Goddard and Kevin Donahue, the seniors on the BHS offensive line, helped the Wolverines to an 11-1 overall record this year, a Western League championship, two state playoff victories – and a 23-2 record in the last two seasons.
“I’m proud of the people I got to work with this year,” said Heide, who took over this season when former coach and Wolverines alumnus Marshall Hahn relocated to Rogers, Ark.
“This year is something special. I’ll remember this year for the rest of my life,” Heide said.
No. 7 Platte Valley (10-2) will play No. 1 Kent Denver (12-0) for the CHSAA Class 2A Boys Football State Championships crown next weekend. Kent Denver ousted defending state champion Florence 42-16 on Saturday.
While the Wolverines will miss the chance to play in a second consecutive state title game, they’ll treasure more than a handful of memories from 2012.
“This year was one of the best times of my life,” Sandrey said. “I’ll never forget these boys; they are my brothers.”
“I told these guys they are my brothers.”
“These boys mean the world to me. I appreciate them every day,” said Pazell, son of David and Stacy Pazell.
“I hope (the younger players) carry on our legacy and give it everything they’ve got, like we did this year,” said Pazell, still refusing to take off his helmet more than an hour after Saturday’s game ended.
He’s probably still wearing it, with purple pride.