Despite loss at Thompson Valley, Summit football grateful to play amid pandemic |

Despite loss at Thompson Valley, Summit football grateful to play amid pandemic

Despite loss at Thompson Valley, Summit football grateful to play amid pandemic

The Summit Tigers, seen here before their season-opening home loss to Conifer, lost at Thompson Valley Saturday night, Nov. 21, 2020.
Photo by Kerri Elam

LOVELAND — Summit High School varsity football head coach James Wagner choked back the tears as his Summit Tigers licked their proverbial wounds and changed out of their pads in the corner of Ray Patterson Field at Thompson Valley High School.

The Tigers (1-3) had just lost 20-6 to Thompson Valley (1-5) on the Eagles’ senior night. As Summit parents and fans donning masks walked past their kids and loved ones on the other side of the fence, Wagner emotionally summarized what Saturday meant to him and the team.

In a world with the novel coronavirus where anything and everything seems like it can be shut down or canceled at any moment, the value of the present — the meaning of the now — is not lost on Wagner.

The cliche “take it one day at a time” approach has rung even more true during a year when coronavirus canceled three games, removed the Tigers from playoff contention and had them guessing who they’d actually be playing this weekend after three previously scheduled opponents canceled.

Their last game of the season, out on the Eastern Plains at Bennett next week, is far from a guarantee. Though that uncertainty is tough, it makes the coach and his players grateful.

“These seniors, these kids, if this is the last game for them, what a group — what an outstanding group,” Wagner said, swallowing tears. “What an absolute privilege it is to coach these young men.”

“I just love these kids so much,” the coach continued. “These seniors, they’re absolutely outstanding and I couldn’t be happier to be a Summit Tiger. Next week is still on, as we know. But, if this is the last hurrah, this is such a privilege to coach these kids.”

Though the Tigers offense couldn’t convert a subsequent score after senior quarterback Cam Kalaf ran in a quarterback scramble to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead seven minutes into the first quarter, all Wagner wants out of his guys right now is for them to battle.

The pregame reality for the Tigers this week was a handicap, to say the least. For the second week in a row due to the county’s COVID-19 rules the Tigers couldn’t practice more than 5-versus-5 at one time. When they went full contact, it was limited to 15 minutes.

“We are not able to fully practice the things we want to, but that’s part of it — part of this year,” Wagner said. “It’s part of the elements, and winners adjust to the situation at hand.”

Those limitations were hard to notice early in the game as junior captain Aidan Collins returned an opening kickoff to near midfield to give Summit great field position. After Kalaf punted on Summit’s opening drive the Tigers defense halted the Eagles’ progress. On Summit’s second drive, Kalaf marched them down the field and scrambled out of the Eagles grasp to the end zone for the early lead.

“I called one play, the guys were covered on the right side, and that was where the play was designed, so I stepped up in pocket, saw and opening and took it,” Kalaf said.

Over the rest of the game, the Tigers offense couldn’t take ideal field position and solid drives and convert them into points. In a battle of similar spread offenses, Thompson Valley senior quarterback James Dyken orchestrated three scoring drives for the Eagles. Eagles playmakers Ethan Charles, Landon Carlson and Eli Mendoza led a Thompson Valley attack that seized the lead by the end of the first half.

At that point, with Summit trailing 14-6, Wagner adjusted his defensive scheme to protect the back end of the Tigers defense a bit more. As the game wore on Wagner sent more and more blitzing pass rushers after Dyken. Though the strategy stemmed the bleeding and resulted in a strong second half for Summit’s defense, the offense just couldn’t find the end zone.

“I wish I would have done that sooner, but it was too late,” Wagner said, talking about sending more blitzes. “It was what it was. Give them credit, they were able to execute plays drawn up against zone coverages.”

The Eagles kept Summit star slot receiving threat Collins in check for most of the game, rolling safeties to his side of the field and bracketing him off the line of scrimmage. Some late-game passes to senior captain wide receiver Kobe Cortright on the back side of Thompson Valley’s man-to-man defense got through, but it wasn’t enough.

“I’m so proud of my kids,” Wagner said. “They fought every play tonight.”

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