November 9, 2013 Updated: November 9, 2013 at 8:19 pm
It's been 22 years since the Coronado faithful have been able to roar and cheer like they did on Saturday afternoon at Garry Berry Stadium.
Zeb Foster stepped in front of Rifle quarterback Layton Stutsman's fourth-down pass with 25 seconds remaining and sprinted down the sidelines for a 40-yard touchdown to give No. 6 Cougars a 34-24 lead and eventual 34-31 victory over No. 11 Rifle in the first round of the 3A state football playoffs.
"It was kind of a surreal moment, Foster said after finishing with 17 tackles. "I saw the ball coming and I knew I had to get into the end zone and help out our team."
It's Coronado's first playoff victory since 1991 and left many, including coach Bobby Lizarraga speechless.
"I don't have the words to describe the feelings," Lizarraga said. "It's a great feeling. I am proud of the boys and the adversity they overcame there in the beginning."
Coronado (10-1) overcame a 17-0 deficit by scoring 21 unanswered points, capped off by Corbin Bender's 5-yard touchdown run with 7:54 left in the third quarter to give the Cougars a 21-17 lead.
However, Stutsman (5-for-12, 146 yards) stormed Rifle (8-3) right back on the ensuing drive with a 38-yard, play-action pass to Kellin Leigh, setting up Bailey Hoffmeister's 3-yard touchdown run to put the Bears ahead 24-21.
Bender then recorded a huge sack and fumble - recovered by Melvin Hardy - at the Coronado 32-yard line with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game to rally the Cougars back to life.
Four plays later, Coronado's pinball wizard, Austin Micci, stiff-armed two Rifle defenders on a left-side stretch play, before slipping through another opponent's arms and galloping his way for a 40-yard score to give the Cougars a 28-24 lead with 8:43 to go.
"We should call him Marshawn Lynch because he went beast mode, and he was all over the place," quarterback Joah Smith said. "He was tearing it up. I don't know how he does it."
Micci also had a 64-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and finished with 225 yards on 25 carries to lift the Coronado offense that was without leading rusher Isaah Duvall.
"It's a feeling like nothing I have ever experienced before," Micci said. "It's just such a good feeling knowing we are one of the best teams in the state and we just keep working hard and are taking nothing for granted."
Saturday's victory also puts this year's Coronado team in elite company. It joins the 1983 state title runner-up team as the only squads in program history with 10 wins.
Not bad for a team that just two seasons ago went 0-10. It will face No. 3 Roosevelt (8-2) next week in the second round.
Hardy, who had celebratory tears running down his face inside the huddle in the closing seconds, knew that when he decided to attend Coronado last year this was a special squad.
"I was bawling in the huddle," Hardy admitted. "I was trying to hold them back, but I just couldn't. My parents were trying to persuade me to go to Palmer, but I just knew there was something about this team and the class I was going in.
"This is special."