In football’s return, underdog Summit Tigers battle Conifer in thrilling loss |

In football’s return, underdog Summit Tigers battle Conifer in thrilling loss

Summit Tigers junior captain wide receiver Aidan Collins runs away from the Conifer defense for one of his four touchdowns in Summit's season-opening 42-34 loss on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020 at Tiger Stadium in Breckenridge.
Photo by Kerri Elam

BRECKENRIDGE — While the teams played, 20 parents sat in the bleachers with no student section. The marching band was absent. Fans watched via Facebook Live from as far away as Connecticut, Michigan and Guadalajara, Mexico.

But it was football.

After a wild, extended offseason — including previously postponing the season to spring per state regulations — on Friday the Summit Tigers took to Climax Molybdenum Field to face off against Conifer. The Tigers played a hell of a football game in a thrilling, back-and-forth 42-34 loss. Both teams played at a high energy despite the thin crowd, which was limited to 175 people — including players — on site per county novel coronavirus regulations.

Friday Night Lights Live

Click here to watch Antonio’s broadcast of Friday’s full game.

Putting aside this offseason’s challenge of prepping for a campaign that might never happen, when it came to the actual football the Tigers faced an imposing challenge in their first contest. Conifer was a team that reeled off 11 consecutive wins last season, including a 56-19 romp over the Tigers, before losing in the state quarterfinals. Despite losing several players to graduation, the Lobos featured a do-it-all 6-foot-3, 210-pound menace in All-State candidate Noah Wagner who ran roughshod over Summit last season.

Wagner ran through and around Summit’s spirited defense again, churning up 258 yards on the ground and scoring five of the team’s first six touchdowns.

Summit started strong and was able to respond to whatever Wagner and dual-threat quarterback Gunner Truby threw their way.

The sprint-out passing attack of senior captain quarterback Cam Kalaf and captain receivers Aidan Collins and Kobe Cortright jetted the Tigers out to an early 14-0 lead. Summit later responded when Conifer rallied with 21 unanswered points. The Tigers never stopped coming all the way up until Kalaf connected with Collins for the junior’s fourth touchdown of the night as the fourth quarter ended.

“I’m so unbelievably proud of my team,” said Summit head coach James Wagner. “I just told them, ‘I can win — we can win — with that effort.’ Week in and week out, we are growing as a team. (Conifer’s) a great program, a good team, facing an all-state player that’s got Division I offers. It’s realizing we are growing as a program and they are in the thick of it.”

While it remains to be seen just how good Conifer is within the fall teams at a statewide level, Wagner feels the Tigers’ tenacity against a proven program is a reflection of the physical and emotional commitment so many Tigers put in this offseason despite the challenges of COVID-19.

That’s especially true of the team’s leadership such as the junior Collins. After an offseason of dedication to strength, speed and his craft, he hauled in seven catches for 194 yards and four touchdowns. Despite his smaller stature, Collins consistently got separation from the Lobos’ secondary. Him and Cortright combined for 12 catches and nearly 250 yards through the air. Kalaf was 12-of-26 with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He also added 96 yards on the ground.

Collins just kept coming at the Lobos all game long: from his jet sweep dive for the pylon leading to the Tigers’ first score, to his post route score to put the Tigers up 14-0 and his 67- and 35-yard bomb touchdowns from Kalaf to keep Summit in the game. That was despite taking his share of bumps and bruises. Cortright missed time during the game and junior center Graham Kalaf was forced out of the game with a lower leg injury.

Tigers football

Oct. 9: vs. Conifer, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 15: at Thornton, 6 p.m.
Oct. 23: vs. Palisade, 5 p.m.
Oct. 29: at Evergreen, 6 p.m.
Nov. 6: vs. Battle Mountain, 5 p.m.
Nov. 13: at Fort Morgan, 7 p.m.

“A kid like that that works on his craft day in and day out and is so mentally focused, he’s going to show up and be a player each and every week,” coach Wagner said speaking of Collins. “That’s just who the kid is. And at not one point did he look tired either. He’s just ready to go whenever I call upon his name, the one kid I’d go to war with at any cost.”

Summit may be starting the year 0-1 ahead of a trip to Thornton next Thursday, Oct. 15, but in so many ways, it was a win. Football was played, the Tigers played well and after the toughest offseason a high school team could experience, they never quit.

“Our mentality is ‘every man’s a Tiger,’” Wagner said. “Everyone’s bought in and leave no brother behind no matter the situation. We talk about being ‘above the line.’ We talk about how to respond to an event, and when an event occurs no matter how big or how small, you’ve got to respond bigger to it.

“And we are bought in on that. We believe in that.”

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