Despite loss, Summit football seniors say goodbye, thanks in emotional final game
Prior to their final game as Summit Tigers under the lights Friday night, a back-and-forth 32-24 loss to Battle Mountain, the dozen Summit High football seniors who said goodbye wrote one last message to their team, families and community.
In a day and age of Snapchat stories and text message emojis, the dozen seniors took to writing shorthand on 3-by-5 inch index cards to pen what they each wanted the PA announcer to read.
Each note was recited over the loudspeaker at halftime while each helmetless player walked arm-in-arm at midfield, flowers in hand, with family members. Ten yards away to the right and left, underclassmen stood in straight lines facing inward.
“Dear Mom and Dad,” No. 17, wide receiver and safety Vale Hildebrand, wrote in neat block letters, “You guys have helped me through all aspects of life: school, sports, relationships and how to be the best version of myself. Thank you for being there whenever I need you. I love you.”
“Dear Mom and Dad,” senior quarterback and defensive back Jake Gillum wrote before signing his name in cursive. “…thank you for supporting me in my football career. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into my football practices, games and camps. I will always miss you being my coach, Dad. You guys made my dream come true because football is the best thing in the world. I love you guys.”
“It’s about the parents,” Summit head coach John Shirkey said, “and celebrating them and their support for their young men out here. They spent a lot of time going to games and practices and all the way from second and third grade all the way to now and it’s kind of the culmination of that, and to honor them with that — for them to get a chance to say something to their parents that a lot of those kids might not say otherwise.
“That’s a cool thing.”
For a young Tigers (3-7) football program, one that has found a solid foundation and compiled an improving 6-and-14 record in Shirkey’s two years as head coach, this was an example of the culture his staff and players have built, despite Friday’s loss to the Huskies (5-5). The improved season-long success comes after Summit won just six games total from 2012 through 2015.
It’s a changed culture, one exemplified by the eternal hugs each senior shared with underclassmen and coaches after the game. The tear-filled scene lasted more than a half hour, as Shirkey instructed his younger players to line up and hug each departing senior. Once that procession finished, Shirkey and his staff had a hard time letting go of seniors like Hildebrand, Gillum and the 10 others who have turned the program around to head in the right direction.
“We spent an awful lot of time together in the fall and offseasons,” Shirkey said, “and it’s the last time that specific group will ever be together.
“I told all of them,” the head coach added, “that I loved them and I am proud of them and whatever happens on the football field doesn’t change that. And football is way bigger than football. It’s about life and being accountable and responsible and doing your job and trusting people.”
Despite the emotion and energy of senior night on this windy early November evening in Breckenridge, the Tigers couldn’t muster enough magic to pull out the win against Battle Mountain.
The Tigers fell by one possession even with the big play heroics of several departing seniors and sparkplug freshman running back and linebacker Noah Martens. The ninth-grader registered 72 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown on nine rushes while also contributing several big tackles and a thrilling fourth-quarter kick return to keep Summit’s hopes alive.
The senior quarterback, Gillum, completed his first six passes of the game and 8-of-10 overall including a pair of 36-yard touchdown passes to fellow senior and wide receiver Jason Tilley in the first half.
Those two touchdown strikes, the second of which was a scintillating one-handed catch and run by Tilley, propelled the Tigers to a 14–8 lead early in the second quarter.
Then to close the half, another senior, kicker Ze David Sanchez, drilled a field goal from 39-yards to give Summit a 17-8 lead at intermission.
But Battle Mountain stormed back in the final half to seize a 32–17 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Huskies were able to do so by dominating the time of possession in the third quarter and rushing three different players for second-half touchdowns and two-point conversions.
Summit hurt itself in the game, and in turn ran single digit offensive plays in the second half, due to three total fumbles lost — of six fumbles in the game. All six fumbles came on the center-to-quarterback exchange.
With the Tigers defense worn down in the fourth quarter, Summit needed a spark from someone. They got it when Martens returned a squib kickoff inside the Battle Mountain 10-yard line with 5:46 remaining and the Tigers still down 32–17. Martens then ran up the gut for a 4-yard touchdown a couple of plays later to give Summit one last hope, trailing 32–24 with 5:30 remaining.
But Battle Mountain continued to run out the clock on the ensuing possession, powered by the clutch third- and fourth-down runs from junior quarterback Traver Goldberg.
The last gasps for Summit included a high Battle Mountain snap with two minutes remaining. It was one Goldberg managed to corral from over his head and elude pressure. Then several plays later, with 1:11 remaining, Goldberg bounced back inside on a quarterback keeper on fourth-and-14, churning for 15 yards to seal the victory for Battle Mountain and end Summit’s season.
And though it may be over, along with his pride for his seniors, Shirkey is excited to see what Martens and other young players will accomplish in the future.
“Looking forward we’ve got a great core group of guys,” the coach said. “Noah, he is a great player, but it’s about more than one player. It always is. And that’s why football is the ultimate game.”
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