A packed stadium at Montrose High School was loud from both sides Friday night, but halfway through the second half, the cheers wilted and it became eerily silent — from fans of the Fountain-Fort Carson Trojans.
What was expected to be a close bout became turn-off-your-TV material for Fountain-Fort Carson.
Ethan Hartman’s 24-yard rushing touchdown: 7-0 Montrose.
Hartman with another score, this time from 42-yards out: 14-0 Montrose.
Blake Griffin, back-to-back-to-back rushing touchdowns: 35-0 Montrose.
And for good measure, a hook and ladder from Montrose as quarterback Gage Wareham completed a pass to Bridger Kurtz, who pitched the ball to Hartman.
Hartman sprinted into the end zone untouched to give Montrose a 42-0 lead at halftime.
The first-half onslaught was all No. 1 Montrose (12-0) would need as they cruised to a 48-14 win over No. 8 Fountain-Fort Carson (10-2) in the 4A state football playoff quarterfinals.
“We just know that to be where we want to be, we need to be great in the first half,” Montrose quarterback Gage Wareham said. “Lately, we’ve been coming out with big starts and it helps.”
Hartman added, “We just come out ready to play and show that to the other team. We’re physical with them and eventually they tap out.”
Fountain-Fort Carson did have the look of a team quickly realizing it was in the middle of its own demise. Montrose’s defense was relentless, undeterred by fake handoffs or sweeps. They closed gaps and sealed the edges, limiting Fountain-Fort Carson to 11 yards of offense in the first half.
For a team averaging 328 yards offensively per game, it certainly had to come as a shock — they had no answer for Montrose’s defensive schemes.
“We talked about having 11 guys to the ball, especially when (running back Dezmen Oliver) had it,” Mertens said. “I thought we rallied to the ball really well. We had good pursuit and our defensive coaches had a good game plan. That was a pretty dominant defensive effort.”
Before Friday, the Trojans’ Oliver had rushed for more than 100 yards in all but one game this season and had eclipsed the century mark in seven straight games. That didn’t matter to Montrose’s defensive front, which limited Oliver to 35 rushing yards, by far his season-worst.
Fountain-Fort Carson quarterback Tavian Tuli didn’t find much space to operate from, either, as the Trojans punted on six of their eight first-half possessions. Montrose forced turnovers on the other two — an interception by Dmarion Lopez gave Montrose a first-and-goal at the Trojans’ 2-yard line, and Montrose defensive end Ashden Oberg sacked Tuli, forcing a fumble that Montrose recovered.
Both turnovers led to Montrose touchdowns. After the interception, Griffin finished a three-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and after Oberg’s sack and fumble recovery, Wareham connected with Hartman on a 21-yard pass, which set up Griffin’s third rushing touchdown — a 2-yard plunge into the end zone for a 35-0 lead.
“It was one of those deals where we played really well in the first quarter and got some momentum and it was just a snowball effect,” Montrose coach Brett Mertens said. “Sometimes that happens in football.”
Montrose’s quick start swayed Mertens to push his team to activate the running clock, which goes into effect when a team leads by 40 points or more.
With Montrose leading 35-0 and under a minute left in the second quarter, Mertens burned all three of the Indians’ first-half timeouts during the Trojans’ final drive of the half — a three-and-out.
After the Indians pushed past 40 points, it gave Mertens and the coaching staff a chance to rest the starters in the second half while giving junior varsity players some time on the field.
One of those players, Austin Zimmer, made good on that chance in the fourth quarter. At Montrose’s 30-yard line with two and a half minutes remaining, Zimmer found a hole and cut right through it and cruised towards the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown run.
Zimmer’s run capped an impressive night from Montrose’s rushing attack. The committee, led by Hartman, Griffin, Zimmer and Gabe Miller, totaled 306 yards on the ground.
Hartman accounted for 130 rushing yards on nine carries and Griffin had 63. Miller added 35.
“I couldn’t be happier. I just get the ball and those holes are as big as they can be,” Hartman said. “Our offensive line is crazy right now and we’re just executing really well and it’s sweet.”
Hartman said the coaching staff had “pumped up” the players before the game. It certainly helped, especially after the week the team had leading up to Friday’s game.
“This team does a really good job of preparing for games,” Mertens said. “They do the things throughout the week that are necessary to be successful on Friday night — they study, they watch film, which puts us in a position to do good things.
“If this team stays hungry, that’s the key. If we’re content and complacent with ‘we’re already good enough,’ then we’re going to get beat. If we keep a mindset that we have to keep getting better and prepare every week like it’s the biggest game of the season, then we’re tough.”
Montrose will play No. 4 Palmer Ridge or No. 5 Erie, who face off on Saturday at 1 p.m., next week in the semifinals.
Montrose last reached the semifinals in 2018.
If Erie wins, Montrose will travel to Erie — Erie has played one home playoff game to Montrose’s two, so the former would have an additional home game.
If Palmer Ridge wins, Montrose will be the home team.
The other semifinal matchup is set — No. 7 Chatfield will play No. 3 Pine Creek.
“Every game from here on out is as tough as they come,” Mertens said. “It’s the Final Four, the four best teams in the state left, anything can happen. We’re happy to be a part of that puzzle.”
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press