Click, click. Pop.
Click, click. Pop.
Click, click. Pop.
The sounds of victory.
In a wild finish befitting a pair of rivals, Fort Lewis College earned the right to fire the musket after Kipp Castanha’s 24-yard field goal floated through the uprights with zeros on the clock to give the Skyhawks a 27-24 Musket Game victory over Adams State on Saturday at Ray Dennison Memorial Field.
FLC’s senior class and head coach John L. Smith fired off round after round of blanks – as has been custom since 1966 for the winner between the Grizzlies and Skyhawks – from a Springfield .45-70 rifle that all was but in their grasp, then wasn’t, then was again.
FLC (4-5, 3-4 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) grabbed a 24-17 lead on Amery Duncan’s 45-yard touchdown run with less than 5 minutes to play, then FLC forced a turnover on downs at its own 42-yard line with 1 minute, 46 seconds to play, needing just a first down to lock up the victory.
However, Dewaun Wesley, who argued adamantly that he was down, lost a fumble two plays later, and a penalty set Adams State up at the FLC 38 with 1:32 left. Auston Hillman hit Taylor Schmidt for a 15-yard touchdown with 38 seconds to go, and suddenly the musket started slipping from FLC’s grasp.
But quarterback Max Baiz, who stepped in for an injured Jordan Doyle in the third quarter, and the Skyhawks weren’t done. FLC marched to its own 46, and on fourth-and-7, Baiz lofted a pass as time expired that ended up in the hands of Aaron Holt at the Grizzlies’ 22, which would’ve sent the game to overtime.
The game had one final twist, though. Adams State (6-3, 4-3 RMAC) was flagged for targeting, tacking on 15 yards and giving FLC an untimed down by rule. After an offsides penalty, holder Trevor Bonifasi placed the ball down just in time after an awkward snap for Castanha, who assumed the full-time field goal-kicking duties last week, to poke it through the uprights for the win and his fourth field goal of the day.
“The snap was a little bad, but Bono did a great job of getting the ball down, and that was enough to let me kick the ball through,” said Castanha, who said it was his first-ever game-winning kick.
It was FLC’s first Musket Game win since 2010 and first at home since 1996. And for seniors such as linebacker Joey Alvarez, who had 11 tackles and a pair of sacks, the chance to finally fire the musket at home was worth the wait.
“It’s a great feeling. I was here when we lost it on this field (two years ago), and it’s always been on my mind to bring it back here at home, and hopefully we start a tradition and keep it here,” Alvarez said.
The FLC defense and special teams helped aid the rally after Adams State scored 17 unanswered points in the third quarter to lead 17-10. Punter Scottie Gallardo, who leads the nation with an average of 47.2 yards per kick, kept pinning Adams State deep, and the defense made it hold, setting up good field position as Castanha hit a pair of field goals early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 17-16 before Duncan’s run.
“Play our butts off and just keep attacking,” Alvarez said. “That’s what we did as a unit.”
The Adams State offense used the hurry-up to grab the lead in the third. Hillman, who completed 17-of-35 attempts for 155 yards and three scores, hit Phil Romero for an 11-yard touchdown. Logan Beck followed soon after with a 22-yard field goal after an interception, and Hillman found Denzel McCullum, who had 76 receiving yards for a 17-yard score for 17 unanswered points.
“The third quarter, they wore us down; we were a-huffin’ and a-puffin’,” Smith said.
Two Grizzlies’ fumbles set FLC up with its first 10 points, with Castanha connecting on a 41-yard field goal, followed by Duncan’s 5-yard touchdown run.
The running game was great for FLC, accounting for 206 of its 275 total yards despite the loss of lineman Arthur Ray for the season. Duncan ran for 81 yards on just seven carries, and Baiz, whose running ability seemed to give Adams State fits, totaled 53 on 13 carries in a relief appearance.
“Doing the signals actually keeps you really into the game because you know every play call. You’re sending them in, and you read the looks, and you know what he’s looking at and what you would’ve done differently on every single play or done the same thing,” Baiz said.
Even after the smoke from the musket settles and shell casings take their place as cherished mementos, FLC not only will have the musket for the next year but a building-block victory over a team that entered the week in the upper reaches of the RMAC. It was a shot fired, figuratively and literally, in a rivalry the Skyhawks want to make competitive again – both on the field and in recruiting.
“That’s about as exciting a game as I can remember, you know, having played in or coached in my life. ... We tried to make it as big as we can, and we’re going to make it bigger, because that’s why you play college football is for rivalries like this. That’s a neat thing,” Smith said.