TORRINGTON – Seventy seconds, 67 yards, down seven - and so began the greatest drive in the history of Torrington High School football.
The No. 1E Trailblazers were trailing No. 2W Jackson High School 21-14 with 1:10 left to play in the WHSAA 3A Football State Championship semifinals at Wiseman Field Friday night. A heartbreaking 55-yard touchdown run by Jackson junior Jeydon Cox with 70 seconds left to play could have been the end of the season for Torrington.
It could have.
The Blazers had been playing catch-up all night, and on the Broncs’ sideline at least, it was all but over and the celebration was underway. The atmosphere on the home sideline was calm – but it was quiet reserve, not defeat.
The final drive started with short completions. Senior quarterback Casey Britton found fellow senior Bryan Lemmon on consecutive short passes to start the drive, then ran for 10 yards to convert a fourth-and-two into a first-and-ten inside Bronc territory. A few more short passes and a pass interference penalty brought Torrington to the Jackson eight-yard line with a first down and 10.4 seconds on the clock.
After a pair of incomplete passes, Britton connected with Lemmon for two yards, and Lemmon ran for six on fourth down to earn a new set of downs and – more importantly – stop the clock with 1.6 seconds remaining.
The Trailblazers had one shot – and coach Mark Lenhardt chose Lemmon to deliver the payload.
He did – from one yard out with 0s on the clock. That left Jackson with a 21-20 lead, and only the untimed point-after try to play. A successful extra point – Torrington was 1-of-2 in the game – would send the game into overtime – but Lenhardt and the Trailblazers had already driven 63 yards; he believed they could pick up two-and-a-half more.
The offense stayed on the field, and as both sidelines and their collective fan bases broke into a roar that was surely heard in South Torrington, Lemmon did it again.
The successful two-point conversion gave Torrington a 22-21 win and a berth in its second consecutive 3A state championship game Friday at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie against Star Valley High School. In all, Torrington ran 17 plays in the final 70 seconds and covered 67 yards to take the win.
“I’m really proud to play with these guys,” Bryan Lemmon said. “They’re family and I love every single one of them. It’s amazing. This is what we set out to do and we did it. I was confident. I had faith in my front line. In my opinion, they’re the best in the state. I just wanted to do what I could and get us two yards.”
The Trailblazers (10-0) never led during regulation. Jackson (8-3) scored the first points of the ballgame junior quarterback Pearson Evans and junior Peter Goettier combined for a 36-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to go up 7-0.
Torrington, aided by a shanked Jackson punt, responded with 10:03 remaining in the first half when Lemmon capped of an eight-play, 37-yard scoring drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge. The extra point was blocked.
The Broncs fired back in the third quarter, and Evans hit freshman Cody Dorsey for a 69-yard touchdown pass to put Jackson up 14-7 with 6:22 remaining in the quarter.
The Trailblazers didn’t play from behind for long. On the ensuing kickoff, Lemmon re-captured the momentum for his team with a 39-yard return into Bronc territory. From there, the Torrington offensive line took over, and the Trailblazers covered the remaining 41 yards on six consecutive run plays. Lemmon capped off the drive with a two-yard score. Britton ran in the two-point conversion to even the score at 14-14 with 4:06 remaining in the third.
Then the fireworks started.
The game turned into a slugfest until Cox broke free with 1:10 remaining in the game, and then – the drive.
“It just speaks to the character of our kids,” Lenhardt said. “They never give up and they played for the full 48 minutes we did a lot of things tonight that we haven’t done all year, like dropped passes. But we found a way to get it done and make it to state.”
The call to attempt the two-point conversion at the end of the game may have been a surprise for the fans and armchair coaches, but Lenhardt said he had no doubt it was the call to make when he sent his offense back out on the field.
“I felt like we had the momentum,” he said. “I felt like we could go for two and do whatever we could to get into the end zone. I felt like defensively really starting to wear down. We were struggling to find a way to stop them and their speed and their tempo. I thought I would rather play one more play from the 10-yard line. I felt like we had the upper hand there.”
And the team didn’t doubt it. The team has played all season with a ‘no fear’ philosophy, senior Josh Posten said - and when the time came to gamble, that shined through.
“We live by what we call no fear of failure all year long,” he said. “It came down to that last play and going for that two-point conversion. We looked over to the sidelines and told Coach ‘no fear of failure’ and he felt the same way. We relied on each other and we worked hard and it all paid off in the end. We are just so excited to go on to the championship.”
Jackson’s Cox led all rushers with 241 yards on 44 carries and a touchdown. Lemmon led Torrington with 124 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns.
Britton was 9-of-19 through air for 61 yards. He also rushed for 58 yards on 10 tries. Lemmon was the leading receiver with seven grabs for 42 yards.
A showdown with No. 1W Star Valley looms ahead for Torrington, but Friday night was a time for celebration. Preparation, Lenhardt said, would come on Saturday.
“I’m just so pleased and proud of our guys,” he said. “We’re just going to enjoy tonight and we’ll focus on that tomorrow.”