DENVER — Fourteen-and-a-half pounds never felt so weightless.
The Windsor High School football team lifted the Class 4A trophy to the sky Saturday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, putting the final touch on their run to becoming state champions.
The Wizards then carried it over to their fans in the west stands, where seemingly the entire town of Windsor sat, and presented it wearing smiles and tears on their faces.
It was coming home for the first time since 2011.
“I really couldn’t feel (the trophy) because I was so numb from everything,” senior wing back/safety Landon Schmidt said. “Four years ago, this began as our dream, and it hasn’t set in yet that we’re finally living it. Just an unbelievable feeling to be bringing it back to Windsor.”
Entering Saturday’s championship game, one final task stood between the No. 3 seed Wizards and their fourth state title in program history.
Windsor outlasted No. 13 Loveland with a 35-14 win to remain the last team standing as the season came to an end.
It was the storybook ending for Windsor’s seniors, who had seen the team four years ago win a 3A title just before they entered high school.
They had tried to replicate that 2011 team, some of whom have siblings in the 2015 team, but until this season were unsuccessful — experiencing a trail of playoff runs that ended in the quarterfinals every season.
But the sense of urgency surrounding their final chance proved enough to help them end their careers as champions.
“They’ve all had this goal since seeing the guys before them do it,” Windsor coach Chris Jones said. “That took a lot of work and sacrifice for all four years to overcome and finally get to where they were wanted to end.”
As it had many times earlier in the season, Windsor used a key halftime adjustment to help it win Saturday’s game.
The Indians (8-6) played competitively in the first half, looking to cap off a Cinderella story that would have crowned them the most underdog champions in Colorado history.
PASS RUSHER: Windsor’s Tapia sets state sacks record
Loveland struck first on the game’s opening possession when quarterback Ayden Eberhardt capped off a 52-yard touchdown drive with a 1-yard run to take the early lead.
Windsor (13-1) was quick to respond when Brad Peeples connected with Zach Moser for a 41-yard passing touchdown, facing third-and-nine, on the ensuing possession.
The teams exchanged touchdowns in the second quarter, and a missed field-goal attempt from Windsor as time expired had the game tied 14-14 at halftime.
That’s when the wheels went in motion.
“We needed the time to turn around and get back on track,” linebacker Corte Tapia said. “We knew we had a chance and what it took in the locker room.”
After the break, the Wizards rattled off three straight touchdowns to take over with the game’s momentum.
Peeples finished with three touchdowns, one on the ground and two through the air, both of which were reeled in by Moser. Schmidt ran into the end zone twice, finishing as the game’s leading rusher with 120 yards on 13 carries.
Running back Jake Shields added 53 yards on 12 carries, and Tapia received five touches on the offensive side of the ball for 12 yards.
The success of the Wizards’ season, however, lies primarily among the performance of their defensive side.
Windsor’s defense was stout all year. It finished as the top scoring defense in 4A, allowing less than seven points per game entering Saturday.
It featured players like Tapia, who now holds the state record in career sacks with 39, and Schmidt, who had a state-best 10 interceptions.
“All season long these guys have had each other’s backs,” Jones said. “They’re an unselfish team, and it paid off with the biggest reward.”
Follow sports reporter Quentin Sickafoose at twitter.com/QSickafoose.
4A FOOTBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Sports Authority Field at Mile High
WINDSOR 35, LOVELAND 14
Loveland 6 8 0 0 — 14
Windsor 7 7 21 0 — 35
LOVE — Ayden Eberhardt 1 run (Eberhardt kick failed), 7:07.
WIND — Brad Peeples 41 pass to Zach Moser (Griffith Kull kick good), 3:47.
WIND — Landon Schmidt 2 run (Kull kick good), 11:49.
LOVE — Charles Dunkelman 7 run (Eberhardt to Aidan McQuade conversion good), 2:52.
WIND — Peeples 22 run (Kull kick good), 8:43.
WIND — Peeples 29 pass to Zach Moser (Kull kick good), 6:24.
WIND — Schmidt 9 run (Kull kick good), 4:26.