The turnovers might have been the byproduct of cold weather or the jitters.
No one truly knows.
But the Vista Ridge football players and coaches made no excuses after their 35-14 loss to No. 6 Pueblo South in the Class 4A quarterfinals Saturday afternoon when the No. 14 Wolves lost three fumbles and didn’t capitalize on two key red zone opportunities.
“It’s very disappointing,” junior running back Emmanuel Garcia said.
Vista Ridge ended its season with a 7-5 record, while Pueblo South (11-2) advanced to the semifinals with a strong passing game and solid defense. It was the first time the Wolves made it to the second round since 2012.
Last week, the Wolves upset No. 3 Fruita Monument 39-34 in the playoff opener.
On a chilly and windy Saturday, the Colts jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead. The onslaught started with a 50-yard punt return by Thomas Pannunzio, followed by two TD passes by Zach Cozzolino.
Cozzolino struck again in the second — this time a 42-yarder to Marcell Barbee, who finished with three TD catches — to give Pueblo South a comfortable halftime lead. Talented senior running back Steve Brock scored the Colts’ final touchdown on a 56-yard run early in the third quarter.
Vista Ridge answered back with short running scores by quarterback Rowan Neal and Garcia, who finished with 103 yards on 16 carries. By then, Pueblo South players were already thinking about their semifinals appearance.
The final score could have been different.
In the first half, the Wolves had the ball near the goal line on two occasions and with four downs to go. But at the end of each sequence, the defense either knocked down a potential touchdown or stopped a Vista Ridge running back from getting through.
“Anytime you’re inside the 5-yard line or at the 1-yard line and you don’t score and you turn the ball over three times,” Wolves coach Jerimi Calip said, “that’s always going to be huge.”
Vista Ridge played most of the game without senior Jaylen Thomas, an Air Force commit, who was the Wolves’ primary quarterback at times this season. He re-injured his collarbone on a running play in the second quarter Saturday.
“Obviously, he couldn’t give us much,” Calip said. “You hate to see a kid like that go out in his last game and not be able to contribute, especially when he could’ve contributed to the outcome of the game.”