Fifteen minutes after Steamboat defeated Rifle the lights went out on Gardner Field. But the scoreboard stayed lit: Steamboat 35, Rifle 29.
It was one of those games Sailors coach Mark Drake said he didn't want to end. It had been at least five years since Steamboat upended Rifle, and the victory was a fitting way for the 17 Steamboat seniors and Drake to conclude their regular season careers at Gardner Field.
Ten minutes before kickoff, Drake formally announced his retirement after 35 years as either an assistant or head coach in the Sailors program.
"That put us over the edge," senior Lonny Radford said. "We wanted it more than anybody, and we had to give it to him."
In the process, the Sailors improved to 7-1 on the season, and, more important, moved to 4-1 in the league, clinching a playoff spot. Rifle fell to 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the league.
It wasn't until quarterback David May took the final knee with 22 seconds remaining that Steamboat fans, players and coaches let out a collective cheer. After a whirlwind fourth quarter in which 22 points were scored in nine minutes, and two turnovers occurred less than 20 seconds apart, nothing seemed sure until the time ran out.
Radford, who caught two touchdown passes, including the game-winning pass midway through the fourth, made the game-saving interception, as well, 10 seconds after the Sailors fumbled the ball trying to run out the clock.
After the fumble, Rifle took over at the Steamboat 49-yard line. Trailing by six, Bears quarterback Kyle Sanderson heaved a pass down the left sideline to his receiver in double coverage. Radford snared the ball and fell quickly at the Sailors' own 13-yard line, giving Steamboat the ball back and one final chance to put the game away for the win.
"We knew Steamboat was tough," Bears assistant coach Damon Wells said. "They didn't do anything we didn't expect. Absolutely all the credit needs to go to Steamboat."
Once again, a team came prepared to face the Sailors' passing attack. Once again, a team failed to contain it, as May threw for more than 300 yards and two interceptions, accounting for three of Steamboat's five touchdowns.
But the game-winning score didn't come from May. It came from junior running back Brad Bonner, who connected with Radford on a 28-yard halfback pass that gave the Sailors a two-touchdown lead with 7 minutes, 37 seconds left in the game.
"They were thinking we had to run the ball, and Brad did a great job selling the run," Drake said. "I'm so proud of these kids. It was a tremendous effort with a big heart. At halftime, we said don't leave it in the house, leave it on the field."
Rifle came back and scored a touchdown with 2:59 left off Marcus Carrion's second touchdown run of the game. The Bears converted the two-point conversion on Sanderson's pass to Troy Weiss to pull to within six.
Rifle could not recover the onside kick, but May's fumble near midfield gave the Bears one more chance to tie or win. Radford's interception on the subsequent play, however, gave him, his 16 senior teammates and Drake reason to celebrate.
"Wasn't this a great high school football game?" Drake asked. "How else would you want to go out?"