Clinging to hopes to make the playoffs in the strange 2020 season and down seven with 2:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, Montrose quarterback Bridger Kurtz threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Trent Blundell to tie the score at 14-14.
But with 38 seconds left in the game, Ponderosa quarterback Jack Hanenburg delivered a pass to senior Kolton Miller, who came down with the grab in the endzone to give the Mustangs the lead and a 21-14 win.
The Indians, now 3-2 and 2-2 in conference play, needed a win against the top rated Mustangs to gain an advantage in the RPI standings. With a limited playoff bracket of eight teams, a perfect season, or a single loss, was the likeliest scenario to secure one of those coveted spots.
Montrose ranked 10th heading into Friday night, but as of Saturday morning, the team dropped to 13th.
This season, coach Brett Mertens has repeatedly praised the effort of the players, aware of the fortunate circumstances it takes just to get a game in as the COVID-19 virus continues to cancel or postpone games statewide. Against Ponderosa, the sentiment remained.
“I was proud of our effort,” he said, “just didn’t quite do enough to get it done. Had some tough breaks go against us and ultimately couldn’t make enough plays to come away with the win.”
Unlike last week, which was an offensive showcase, both defenses limited opportunities through the air and on the ground. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Montrose was stopped at the 4-yard line, but not too long after, the Indians intercepted Hanenburg, continuing the narrative for both teams.
Montrose was without starting quarterback Keagan Goodwin for the second consecutive game, but Mertens was pleased with the performance of Kurtz.
“He played great,” Mertens said. “Proud of him.”
Blundell scored on a 22-yard run in the first quarter. Moments later, the Indians recovered an onside kick, but were unable to capitalize.
Ponderosa scored in the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead.
The Indians will return home and regroup in preparation for next week’s game against Grand Junction Central. Heading into Saturday, the Warriors were 0-4 and had been outscored by their opponents 222-12.
“All the coaches are proud to be coaches of these amazing young men and we will keep working hard and (will) stay together as a team,” Mertens added.
• Blundell added to his touchdown total Friday with a pair of scores. It’s his third multi-touchdown effort of the season, and he’s on pace to match or exceed last season’s total of seven rushing scores.
• Defensively, the Mustangs are a top unit as they allowed opposing teams to score just 10.7 points per game. Montrose pushed past that figure in a tightly contested battle among top 4A teams.
• The last time Montrose played back-to-back away games was 2017, and in two instances. Montrose split the first set, but swept for a pair of wins against Littleton and Palmer late in the season. CHSAA set up contests for all teams who opted for Season A (fall), but it adds to the unique nature of the 2020 season schedule.
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press