ThunderRidge knocked out of playoffs in semifinals


Fairview broke a 21-21 halftime tie with a field goal and added a pair of touchdowns to beat ThunderRidge 38-28 in the state Class 5A semifinal game Nov. 23 at Shea Stadium.

“It was a tough game. Our problem was we had way too many opportunities on offense and defense and didn't take advantage of them. You can't do that against a good team like Fairview. We didn't deserve to win today,” Joe Johnson, Grizzlies head coach, said after the game. “Mistakes hurt us. We committed too many penalties, we dropped too many passes and gave up too much yardage on a number of third and long situations. You just can't do that. We knew we had to score a lot of points and that didn't happen tonight.”

The loss ended the season for ThunderRidge. Fairview goes on to the Class 5A state finals against Valor Christian at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

The first half of the Nov. 23 semifinal game was a seesaw battle. Fairview took the kickoff, put together a nine-play drive and scored a touchdown and added an extra point with 7:17 left in the first quarter. The Grizzlies struck back immediately as Steve Ray got blocking to turn the corner, broke a couple tackles and raced 78 yards for a touchdown. Mark Hopper kicked the extra point and the score was tied 7-7 with 7:03 left in the quarter.

Fairview scored a touchdown late in the quarter but ThunderRidge again answered early in the second quarter as Ray scored his second touchdown of the game on a four-yard run, Hopper added the extra point and the score was tied at 14.

The Knights got a touchdown with six minutes to play but the Grizzlies again countered. This time, it was Matt Stanley who ran 11 yards for the touchdown and, when Hopper kicked the extra point, the score was deadlocked. It remained that way for the next 2:23, so the halftime score was 21-21.

The Knights took the lead for good with a field goal with 7:34 left in the third period. But it appeared ThunderRidge was going to respond as they drove deep into Knight territory. However, the drive was derailed when Fairview intercepted a pass in the end zone. The Knights them mounted a drive and scored a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter. The extra point made the score 31-21.

The Grizzlies were knocking on the end zone door again later in the third quarter, but Fairview recovered a fumble to end the drive.

The next points came with 3:28 left in the game when the Knights scored a touchdown to make the score 38-21.

However, ThunderRidge refused to quit, and quarterback Brody Westmoreland passed to Hopper for a touchdown with 36 seconds left in the game. The extra point was good to make the score 38-28. The Grizzlies unsuccessfully tried an onside kick, then Fairview got the ball and ran out the clock for the win.

ThunderRidge played well. Ray carried 12 times for 130 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Westmoreland completed 17 of 30 passes for 317 yards and carried the ball 11 times for 41 yards. Hopper was the leading receiver as he caught nine passes for 173 yards and one touchdown. He also was 4-for-4 kicking extra points.

Westmoreland, a senior, was a question mark for the game because of a back injury suffered a week ago. After the game, he said going against Fairview was a tough battle.

“It was a hard-nosed game. Fairview is a great team and we knew we had to bring our A game to beat them. Unfortunately, the game didn't turn out like we wanted it to turn out,” Westmoreland said after the game. “Their offense moved the ball and their defense made some huge plays today.”

He said it wasn't hard to come back for the semifinal game.

“I wanted to be here today and I knew if I came back, I would give it my best effort. I think I did that today,” he said. “As a senior, I take away great memories from today and from the season. I take away the great memories as well as the friendships and the brotherhood with my teammates. I also take away the memories of the great coaching I have gotten the last four years. I love ThunderRidge, our school and our community.”

ThunderRidge senior linebacker Tyler Sena said it was a tough battle with Fairview. The Knights are known for their potent, record-setting offense, but the Grizzlies held them to 459 yards of total offense, including 319 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

“It was a big game for us. We wanted to get to the next level and get to the championship. Unfortunately, that didn't happen today,” he said after the game. “I didn't think they were great up front. We stopped their running game cold. I was keying on the guards and it helped me get to the area where the runs were going. We got some sacks too because our defensive linemen did an amazing job.”

He said this has been a season to remember.

“It has been a great time playing alongside all my friends and getting to the state semifinals,” he said. “Hopefully, I did a good job as one of the leaders and I wish ThunderRidge all the best next season.”