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By Jocelyn Rowley
Sports@lhvc.com 

Niwot falls to George Washington in season opener

 

August 30, 2018

Jocelyn Rowley

Jarrett Noterman had the longest reception of the game for Niwot in the fourth quarter.

If the Niwot Football season opener didn’t quite go the way he had hoped, offensive coordinator Stan Matsunaka was unruffled after the 36-0 loss to George Washington on Friday night at All-City Stadium. Though the youthful team struggled to execute on both sides of the ball during the contest, it is evident that the Niwot Football program made significant strides during the offseason.

“I think the whole atmosphere this year is a lot different,” Matsunaka said. He served as head coach for the game while Coach Jeremy Lanter served a one-game suspension for a self-reported violation of CHSAA rules for practicing in pads a day early. “I really expect next week they’ll play a lot better, and the week after that. The wins will come, I’m confident of that.”

It was clear early on that the Cougars’ lack of experience would be its limiting factor in the game. By the end of the first quarter, George Washington had a13-0 lead, thanks to a Niwot fumble and a long Patriots’ punt return. They gave up another long touchdown in the second half, and the Patriots netted a safety when an errant snap went over quarterback Ayden Bartko’s head and into the Cougars’ end zone. Heading into the break, Niwot trailed 22-0.

“We have a whole new offensive line,” Matsunaka noted. Cougar center Jovani Lopez, a junior, is the only line player with varsity experience, but he had limited starts in 2017. “It’s about the speed of the game. We’ve got really young kids, who just have never been on the field with things moving so quick.”

The Cougars’ fared better in the second half, giving up just 14 points, though those came on scoring passes for 64- and 95 yards. They also put together their longest drive of the game, which featured a 29-yard pass from Bartko to junior Jarrett Noterman.

“As the game went on, they started gaining a little more confidence,” Matsunaka said of the offensive unit, which gained 142 yards of total offense. “They begin to understand what we’ve been talking about when we say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to see, and they’re not going to stand still for you, you actually have to go find them.’”

The reviews are decidedly mixed for Niwot on the defensive side of the ball, as outstanding individual performances were paired with missed tackles and slow reactions. In all, the Cougar defense gave up 484 yards to the Patriots, 360 of them in the air.

A pleasant surprise was senior Cory Rathburn, who repeatedly made it into the George Washington backfield to threaten the Patriots’ quarterbacks. He led the Cougars in tackles, with four solo and three assisted, and blocked a field goal in the third quarter.

“I kind of just decided to have fun,” the second-year varsity linebacker said following his career-best game. “I’ve been playing since fifth grade, so I’ve been saying to myself ,‘have fun,’ and it works.”

Junior Julian Molina was also a key part of Niwot’s defense, with a big stop right before the end of the half. He also gained nine yards on two carries in a short stint on offense. Senior Angelo Salazar had six tackles, five of them unassisted, and he recovered a fumble for the Cougars in the second quarter. Sophomore Max Roberts had another six tackles, while seniors Zach Coblentz and DaeMonte Terry had four apiece.

Another pleasant surprise was senior Josh Palomares, a rookie kicker who splits time with the Niwot boys soccer team. Though the right-footer didn’t get a chance to try any field goals, he had two kickoffs for 94 yards, and three punts for 158 yards, including two that pinned the Patriots to their one yard line.

“I have not been working on that in practice,” Palomares admitted. He had no football kicking experience before the official start of the season two weeks ago. “It was my first time punting, so I guess they were lucky punts in a way.”

Overall, Matsunaka said he was “excited” about the Cougars’ prospects for better play and potential wins down the stretch, especially after seeing their progress during the game.

“This is a team that if we played them again at the end of the season, it would be a much different game,” he said. “I’m not discouraged. I’m encouraged by what I saw, and I know the defensive coordinator is too.”

The Cougars take on Greeley Central in their home opener on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

Jocelyn Rowley

Senior Cory Rathburn (27) reacts to a George Washington pass during the season opener on Aug. 24.

George Washington 36, Niwot 0

Cougars (0-1) 0 0 0 0 — 0

Patriots (1-0) 13 9 7 7 — 36

Rushing — Flanagan 12-33, Franco 2-18, Molina 2-9

Receiving — Noterman 1-29, Colon 2-22

 

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