Two years removed from his final college football game at Colorado State-Pueblo, Jamaal Johnson figured his competitive playing days had ended.
Thank goodness for the Rocky Mountain State Games.
Johnson, a former ThunderWolves running back who earned all-state honors at Fountain-Fort Carson, came up with a game-clinching interception Sunday in the flag football championship game at a soggy Memorial Park. It preserved a 12-7 victory for his Saints Row team over VIP.
"I played basketball in the State Games when I was in high school, but I didn't know they had it for guys our age," said Johnson, 24, who earned degrees in sociology and business administration in 2011 and presently works as a branch manager at a Pueblo job staffing agency. "I thought we'd be done after high school. Now, I finally have a State Games medal."
Pfc. Stanley Benion, a Bradley mechanic at Fort Carson and former blue-chip running back at New Orleans'McDonogh 35 Prep High School, caught the game-winning touchdown with 3:05 to go.
Trailing 7-6 late in the second half - both 20-minute stanzas use a running clock with each team possessing four total timeouts - Benion lined up as one of four wide receivers on the same side and was left uncovered in the right corner of the end zone.
"Football is all about setting up the right situation for the right moment," said Benion, who later played college football at American International College in Springfield, Mass. "We just gave them a new look that we hadn't run all game. The outside guys ran slants, and I ran off the cornerback and safety. The safety came up and did his job, and I went right by him all was by myself."
Saints Row, a name that Benion said came from a video game, struck quickly on defense. On the first play from scrimmage, Brandon Deese, a 2011 Palmer graduate, stepped in front of a VIP pass and returned it for a short touchdown. There is no placekicking in flag football, so the extra point is earned by conversion, which Saints Row was unable to convert.
VIP later scored a touchdown via the pass, then added the point on a reception, to take a 7-6 lead shortly before halftime.
Both defenses held serve throughout the second half as Saints Row stayed within striking distance.
Then, after the postgame celebration, reality set in.
"It's back to the real world tomorrow," Benion said. "Today is my vacation. Football is my life, and I love these guys. I've been here three years, and this team is like my brothers away from home."