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Niwot runs over Mountain View for long-awaited win

Series: Niwot football | Story 16

The 2021 season won't be remembered as the best in Niwot football history, but on Oct. 22 the Cougars made it the most successful in more than a decade. Behind a balanced performance in all three phases of the game, Niwot put down Mountain View 28-20 to deliver its fourth win of the season, the most since 2008. For Cougar second-year head coach Nik Blume, finally breaking the three-win curse is both a relief and another sign that the program is finally turning around.

"[Niwot athletic director] Joe Brown brought me here for a reason, and I promised them I'd work tirelessly until we got over that hump," he said. "Like I said, we're just getting started. I'm not going to get excited, the goal is not just to win four games. This was a big step for this program, now we've got to go and get better."

For some of the seniors, the victory was even more meaningful because it was the final home game of their careers and, in an ironic twist, it came at the expense of former Niwot head coach Jeremy Lanter, now an assistant for Mountain View. Lanter resigned following the 2019 season, after amassing a 6-24 record during three seasons at the helm. At the time, his departure prompted a mixed reaction from the players, as did his presence on the sidelines for the elusive fourth win.

"It felt nice getting the win against him, I'm not going to lie," senior Easten Leatherwood said. A fourth-year veteran, the safety/wide receiver had his share of clashes with the former coaching staff. "But I also think that he's got to be proud of us, too, because we were his team."

If not, then Blume was proud enough for both of them, and had good reason to be. Boosted by the return of junior quarterback Ben Classen, Niwot turned in its most complete performance of the season. Defensively, the Cougars were able to pressure Mountain View's quarterback several times, and generated four turnovers, including a pick-six by senior Osman Ochoa in the third quarter. Niwot held the Lions to just 50 yards rushing

As for the offense, Classen had the team moving the ball effectively from opening kickoff, an early turnover notwithstanding. Niwot got on the board first, after a blocked punt by Leatherwood gave them a short field with just under six minutes to go in the first quarter. Two plays later, Ochoa took the ball in from the 14-yard line for his second touchdown of the year, giving Niwot a 7-0 lead. Ochoa, a last-minute substitute for starter Thomas Carnagie, ended the night with a career-high 120 yards and two touchdowns.

"I continue to be amazed by things that are happening that should completely wipe us out, but don't," Blume said of losing Carnagie. "But Osman Ochoa, he just comes out of nowhere, unexpectedly, and does the work."

Mountain View tied it up on their next possession, after some ill-timed penalties gave their drive new life. But the Cougars answered back early in the second quarter with a 75-yard drive that ended with a Classen rushing touchdown. The junior scored again before the end of the half to give Niwot a 21-7 lead, but the Cougars gave up a long run and pass for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 21-14 at the break.

The third quarter started inauspiciously for Niwot, after Mountain View returned the opening kick-off for a touchdown. But senior Bryce Nemec blocked the Lions' extra point attempt, preserving a 21-20 Niwot lead. Afterwards, Blume credited special teams for two of the game's most pivotal plays.

"The blocked punt, that's what got us rolling, and set us up to get in the end zone, and then we're off and running." Blume said. "Now with the blocked extra point, you're still playing with the lead, whether it's one point or not, and that's massive."

Most of Niwot's second half action came from defense, starting with Ochoa's interception return for a touchdown to make it 28-20. Leatherwood and Joseyair Sosa also had picks for Niwot, while Nemec, senior Brad Bair, and sophomore Garrett Eker kept pressure on in the backfield. The defense also halted a last-minute drive by Mountain View that momentarily had Niwot fans fearing the worst.

"We always make it harder than it has to be, and that's starting to get a little frustrating," Blume said of the Lions' final possession. Trailing 28-20 with 1:30 on the clock, the Lions advanced to Niwot's 11-yard line, but were unable to score. "But we did bow up, and made it happen, and got off the field."

Classen ended the night with 43 yards passing and 96 yards rushing, bringing his season total to 678. He also scored two of Niwot's touchdowns, and now leads the team with nine. Leatherwood also had 23 yards on eight carries, including two key third down conversions.

"Seven or eight of us have been playing together since we were in sixth grade," the senior said of the team's winning effort. "We're all just like a really, really big family. Two or three years ago, this team wasn't really a family, it was more divided. This year has been the best year, and we're all just one big brotherhood."

With the win, Niwot moved to 4-4 on the season with two games left to go, at Roosevelt (8-0) on Oct. 29 and Northridge (6-2) on Nov 4.


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