November 23, 2013 Updated: November 24, 2013 at 5:29 pm
Isaah Duvall simply wanted to step up and chip in for an injured teammate.
What he did was help his Coronado football team continue its magical run into the 3A state championship game.
The senior running back ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns, and the Cougars held off a late rally by stopping a fake on a 2-point conversion try with 20 seconds left in a 28-27 thriller over The Classical Academy on Saturday at Garry Berry Stadium.
Coronado (12-1) will meet defending 3A champion Silver Creek (10-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Everly-Montgomery Field in Longmont.
With leading rusher and top defensive player Austin Micci out after suffering a stress fracture in his tibia in last week's victory at Roosevelt, Coronado turned to Duvall as the feature back.
"It felt great to win for my boy Micci," said Duvall, who missed the first-round game against Delta and most of last week's game at Roosevelt. "He held us together the whole way when I was hurt and sick. It felt great to give it back to him on this field."
He got plenty of help from Corbin Bender, a senior whose 6-yard touchdown run tied the game at 7 late in the first quarter and also secured the victory by recovering an onside kick in the waning moments.
"When we heard Austin was out, we all had to step up as running backs, to run harder and hit harder and hold on to the ball," Bender said. "At the end, my heart was really pounding, but we got it done. I'm fine with practicing on Thanksgiving."
TCA (10-3) nearly extended its season instead, scoring twice late in a span of 4:21 to erase a two-touchdown deficit. First, Titans senior quarterback Jantzen Ryals marched his team 97 yards in 13 plays, capped with an 8-yard strike to a wide-open Nick DeRay with 4:41 left.
After the teams traded turnovers and a short Coronado punt, the Titans got closer when Ryals found Jake Frankmore on a 22-yard strike with 20.3 seconds to go.
To Ryals' shock, a fake was called and, after much confusion, the senior was unable to find an open receiver to his left and ran to his right. But he was tackled just short of the goal line.
"Actually, it was kind a surprise to me and everyone out there that we were going for it," said Ryals, who ended the afternoon 8-for-27 passing with 115 yards and two touchdowns to go with two interceptions. "Even when it happened, I don't know if we were 100 percent prepared. They made a great play. I'm so proud of how hard the guys fought, but also disappointed. We were so close to (making) the state championship and came up short by one point. It kind of sucks."
Titans coach David Bervig never wavered in his decision to go for the win.
"I think I'd go for two again," the second-year coach said. "We just had confusion on what that was going to be, a fake field goal or running a play. That confusion got us out of sync. The thing I wish I would have done was to take a delay-of-game penalty and make the extra point to get to overtime, but it's a risk-reward kind of thing right there."
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Duvall found a hole over left guard, then outraced the secondary for a 73-yard run that gave the Cougars a seemingly safe 28-14 lead with 11:12 left.
He lost a fumble on the play after the Titans had cut the lead to 28-21, but his defense helped him out on a Sam Smith interception. Even when the Cougars couldn't run out the clock, they found a way to make one more big play on defense, just as they did in previous playoff wins against Rifle and Roosevelt.
"It's playoff football and anything can happen," Cougars coach Bobby Lizarraga said. "With turnovers, you never expect or want those things to happen. We stayed composed and persevered, and things worked out. It's a great day, just a great playoff game."