The Durango Demons lost for the first time in nearly three months on Saturday afternoon, and for the final time this season.
Durango didn’t have an answer for Lutheran’s offensive line and offense in general, as the Lions beat the Demons 39-30 in the 3A state football quarterfinals.
Durango’s season ended at 9-2. Lutheran improved to 10-2 and will play top-seed Green Mountain in the 3A state semifinals.
“It’s never easy,” Demons coach Matt Burton said. “This last game of the season is always hard. There’s only one team that can finish with a victory. I’m so proud of the players. They played their hearts out, they left it all on the field and that’s all you can ask for.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Harms ended his Durango football career by throwing for about 270 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had over 80 yards rushing.
“He’s a quiet kid but when it gets going, he’s one you can rely on,” Burton said of Harms. “He just kept doing what he’s been doing all season, putting the offense in a position to succeed whether it was tucking and running it or scrambling around or making throws and putting them on the money. He continued to improve every week.”
Louden Grimes had a touchdown catch, as did Seb Tripp. Mason Palmer returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
Demons running back Jaxon Fancher didn’t play for the second straight week. It was a close decision, but his arm hadn’t fully healed from the staph infection he suffered in the season finale against Palisade.
Lutheran senior quarterback Ryken Daugaard had all day to throw to his top targets Ben Herbek and Jack Wesolowski behind the overpowering offensive line. Daugaard threw for over 200 yards, had one passing touchdown, two rushing touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Lions showed off their quick offense from the first snap. Daugaard used little clock to advance deep into Durango territory.
Daugaard threw a 40-yard pass to Herbek inside the red zone. But the Demons defense came up clutch and forced a fourth-and-4. Daugaard’s pass was incomplete, and Durango took over.
Harms then showed off the Demons’ passing attack with a beautiful 85-yard touchdown pass over the shoulder in stride to Grimes. After a blocked PAT, Durango led 6-0 with 9:29 to go in the first quarter.
Lutheran’s speedy offense was on display once again, as Daugaard was slinging the ball on the next drive, finding numerous receivers.
The Lions offense quickly got around the goal line and Daugaard ran it in to cap off a 65-yard drive, which only took one minutes and 29 seconds. Lutheran led 7-6 with 7:58 to go in the first.
Durango got the ball back but didn’t have it long, as Harms lobbed a deep ball toward junior Gage Voiles, but it was easily picked off by a Lutheran defensive back.
Daugaard continued to have loads of time to survey and throw. He worked the Lions down into the red zone and rushed 10 yards for another touchdown, extending Lutheran’s lead to 14-6 with 5:24 to go in the first.
Palmer then stole the show for Durango when he took a kick return to the house for a 90-yard touchdown. Lutheran led 14-13 with 5:08 left.
However, Daugaard used some screen passes and a deep ball with Wesolowski to get into Durango territory, later tossing a touchdown pass to Herbek from about 20 yards out on a fade route. Lutheran led 21-13 after the successful PAT with about two minutes left in the first.
Durango’s Dylan Burns kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it 21-16 with 10:33 left in the second, and the Durango defense finally pressured Daugaard and sacked him and on third-and-long.
Harms threw a bad interception on Durango’s next drive, but Palmer intercepted the ball on a tipped pass to give the Demons the ball again with less than two minutes to go.
The Lions got the ball back right before halftime, but Daugaard threw an interception into the end zone before the intermission.
Durango started the second half with the ball, but had to punt after getting to the Lutheran 40-yard line. Daugaard then threw another interception into double coverage on the Lions’ next drive.
Disaster occurred for the Demons when they had to punt. The snap to Burns was low, and he had to jump on it. Lutheran got the ball at the Durango 3-yard line and ran it in with a Johnson score to make it 28-16 with 7:25 left in the third.
Harms then had a great drive, running the ball and completing passes to Grimes and Palmer to get the Demons deep into Lutheran territory. Burton decided to roll the dice and decided to go for it on fourth-and-6. Durango got it with a pass interference call on Lutheran. Harms took advantage and tossed a back shoulder throw to Tripp for a 5-yard score to cut Lutheran’s lead to 28-22.
The Lutheran offensive line started to dominate as the game came to a close. Johnson had runs of 20 and 15 yards, and Holdridge had a 20-yard run.
Durango stopped Lutheran on third-and-goal inside the 10-yard line, and Lutheran kicked a field goal to increase its lead to 31-22 with 11:17 to go.
The Demons got the ball back, but Harms slipped on fourth down and turned it over on downs near midfield. On Durango’s very next drive, Harms took a big sack on third down. His fourth-and-16 pass was incomplete with 4:30 to go.
Lutheran then took the ball and ran out the clock, which resulted in a Johnson touchdown and a 2-point conversion made it 39-22 with 2:14 left. Durango then marched down the field to score a garbage time touchdown and a 2-point try with 50 seconds left, but that was Durango’s final scoring drive of 2023.