Published: August 23, 2014
It can be a miserably long offseason in high school football, grueling months of pad-cracking and bone-bruising work, all without a true scoreboard or real opponent.
Bodies break down, spirits lag and the preparation remains ongoing.
But during those days, Coronado coach Bobby Lizarraga can take a moment to remember it's not always the best teams with hardware at the end of the season - it's often the deepest.
The defending Class 3A state champion once again likes its depth this season, and showed as much on Friday night at Garry Berry Stadium. In the Cougars' first game since moving up to 4A, they ran for 400 yards and beat Palmer 34-20 despite the absence of two important pieces of their running attack.
Their top rusher from a year ago, Isaah Duvall, was inactive at the discretion of Lizarraga, and transfer Malik Renner is unavailable for a few more weeks due to CHSAA transfer rules.
"The work in the offseason is really paying off for us," Lizarraga said. "The depth chart really showed its strength tonight despite the fact we are pretty young. Our depth helped us last season, and we are hoping it can do the same for us this season."
It did Friday. Running back Austin Micci ran for two of his three touchdowns in the second quarter, Zeb Foster added 62 yards and a 25-yard score and quarterback Devon Baker rushed for most of his 85 yards in the third quarter to help Coronado build a 27-12 lead.
But the Terrors, who play a 4A-heavy schedule after going 1-9 last season, made things interesting midway through the fourth. Stratton Case hit Nathan Courtney for their second TD connection of the game, an 18-yard score that made it 27-20 with 6 minutes, 50 seconds remaining, and Palmer's defense followed suit with a quick stop on Coronado with about 4 minutes to go.
The Cougars held on with a late stop and rushing persistence that concluded with a 59-yard touchdown from Micci with less than 3 minutes to go.
"That team won the 3A championship last year and we made it a great game," said Courtney, who also had a 30-yard TD and a 69-yard reception that set up the first score of the game. "This gives us confidence going forward."
For a moment, in the opening minutes, it looked like Coronado's rushing attack would falter against an aggressive-minded Palmer defense. Then it looked like they could run for days against them.
After two empty drives in the midst of a 6-0 deficit, Foster put the Cougars on the board early in the second quarter, smashing through the middle of the Terrors' line before trotting to a score 25 yards later. And Micci, who struggled finding any room on his first few attempts, finished the next two Coronado drives with touchdowns from 25 and 20 yards to make it 21-12 at half.
"Our team has a lot of perseverance," Micci said. "We came out a little slow and I had some bad runs. But we bounced back."
Next up, Palmer (0-1) faces Doherty and Coronado (1-0) travels to face Pueblo East.
After the game, Lizarraga said he hopes matchups between the Cougars and Terrors will continue past this season.
"The rivalry really showed up, didn't it?" he said.