Subzero Senior Night: In frigid conditions, Summit football fights, falls to Glenwood 36-30

Summit senior Al Espinosa (left) wraps up a Glenwood runner during Summit's Senior Night game Friday evening at Tiger Stadium in Breckenridge.
Paul Cloud /

Editor’s note: The following story corrects that Al Espinosa is a student at The Peak School, not Summit High School, though Espinosa is a member of the Summit High football team.

BRECKENRIDGE — Summit Tigers senior linebacker Al Espinosa and the rest of the team knew what they were getting Friday night on the frozen turf at Tiger Stadium in Breckenridge with Glenwood Springs’ smashmouth double-tight, double-wing offense.

On paper, it may seem simple to some. A dive, a counter and a pull — three plays to diagnose and stop. Better buckle your chin strap, stay low and discipline your eyes to see what’s coming at you.

But with a distinct weight and experience disadvantage in the trenches, the Demons rushing attack left the Tigers somewhat stunned and dazed with Summit down 16-0 at the end of the first quarter.

“We knew it was coming hard,” the Peak School student Espinosa said. “And the first couple of plays it just smacked us right in the face. But I believe in my team so much. Man, last year, we lost to this team 41-12. And in this game I saw a completely different team. I’m so proud of how the defense showed up.”

Playing in frigid, high-elevation conditions that dipped into the single digits with the wind chill, Summit scraped back from that early 16-0 hole to take an eventual 23-22 lead Friday night under the lights at Tiger Stadium. But, in the end, Glenwood’s 485 rushing yards on 59 attempts — attempting a solitary passing play on the night — proved too much for an inspired bunch of Tigers. Despite the 36-30 loss, the Tigers (3-6, 2-2 3A Western Slope) put it all on the line against the Demons (3-6, 3-1), playing for Espinosa and fellow seniors including two-way lineman Zayden “Ziggy” Gerry, tight end and defensive end Daniel Gonzalez, safety and wide receiver Alexi Nevarez and team inspiration Joseph Burgos.

Before the sun set behind the Tenmile Range and turned Senior Night into a subzero struggle, Summit first-year head coach James Wagner sat his team down in the Summit High School auditorium. He then asked each senior, one-by-one, to address the team. Later during pregame, the Denver Broncos mascot, Miles, hoisted the NFL team’s flag in the air while leading the Tigers to the field as electrified as ever.

LIVE: Miles, the Denver Broncos mascot, leads the Summit Tigers varsity football team into the field on Senior Night

Posted by Summit Daily News on Friday, November 1, 2019

“They poured it all out there,” Wagner said of the seniors. “They spoke from the heart, it really set the tone for the night. Our whole team wanted to win this game for them, and I think that put an extra motivation in them to pursue a victory. … Every time Glenwood did something, they responded. We did some great things for us to mentally come back.”

Down 16-0 after a pair of rushing touchdowns by Glenwood junior running back Garrett Dollahan, Summit maintained hope after Glenwood sophomore running back Blake Nieslanik fumbled at the end of a 35-yard run. Summit junior Kobe Cortright recovered possession at Summit’s 45 with 4:50 remaining in the half. A minute later, Summit junior quarterback Cam Kalaf took an up-the-gut run 24 yards for a touchdown, following it up with a 2-point conversion and the Tigers down 16-8 as Miles the Denver Broncos mascot waved his flag.

With 2:06 left in the half, Summit continued to dial in their defensive adjustments. Gonzalez blew up a play in the backfield to force a long third down and Glenwood’s only pass attempt of the night. Then with just 29 seconds left in the half, Kalaf found junior wide receiver Kobe Cortright for a 24-yard touchdown catch, capped by a Gonzalez 2-point conversion run to tie the game at 16. For Cortright, his two catches on the drive were season-defining moments of growth after he dropped an open pass to start the drive.

At halftime, Wagner and the Tiger coaches were in the midst of adjusting to Glenwood’s 154 rushing yards in the first half on 25 carries. Gauging that the Demons liked to run to the boundary — narrow side of field — Summit set its strength to the boundary while rotating the positions of individual defensive players to employ their strengths strategically.

The third quarter was scoreless until the final moments, as Summit started slanting into gaps to disrupt the timing of Glenwood’s blocks. With 1:08 left in the quarter, Niselanik broke free of a tackle for a 15-yard touchdown scamper. But the Tigers kept it to within 22-16 after Wagner barked out a “toss”  to help stop the 2-point conversion.

Just 41 seconds later, Kalaf connected to Cortright for a 72-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a read-pass option, capped by a 1-point conversion kick by junior Jaden Smith for a 23-22 Tigers lead.

Glenwood then created enough cushion beginning with a 55-yard rushing touchdown by Dollahan and a 2-point conversion from senior fullback Elliot Walz with 8:47 left in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Glenwood’s kicker rocketed the football off of a Summit player, the freak play resulting in an effective onside kick and Glenwood recovery. Glenwood then extended their lead to 36-23 with 4:13 left on a 7-yard touchdown run by Dollahan.

Summit took less than a minute to score on the next drive, Collins catching an 11-yard pass, Cortright catching a 53-yard strike and Summit capping the drive with a speed-option pass play involving Kalaf, Collins and senior Alexi Nevarez.

Drawing within 36-30 wasn’t enough though, as Glenwood converted enough first downs to run the clock out. Still, on a subzero Senior Night, Wagner described the Tigers’ effort as “unbelievable.”

“The fight that my kids gave,” the coach said, “I could not ask more of them. They played their hearts out.”

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