The home of Marv Kay stadium in beautiful Golden Colorado was the setting for the inaugural 2019 WNFC IX Cup Championship. The season came to an end culminating with an epic battle of two football titans, the Texas Elite Spartans and the Utah Falconz.
The Spartans looked to finish a perfect season; adding another championship to their unblemished resume. The Falconz came rumbling into the final match up, destroying everything in their path; posed to rock the women’s football world with an epic upset. The stage was set for an all-out, nothing to lose, winner take all championship game that would be talked about for many seasons to come. From the first snap to the end of the game, that’s exactly what it was. Great plays made by great players with plenty of hard-hitting action.
The Falconz entered the playing field first with a burst of excitement. Rallying and circling around and sounding off chants of victory with confidence. Different day, different game and this was their time.
The Spartans entered the stadium with calmness about them, business as usual; a sense of being on top of the hill and until someone proved otherwise.
The Falconz won the toss and sent an immediate message to the Spartans, by electing to receive the kickoff to start the game. The Falconz, behind the quick wit and smoothness of QB Elizabeth Lane, ran the option game to perfection. With FB Platte, FB Tela and RB Aiono methodically running the ball and putting them right where they needed to be, sending the Spartans a message. The Falconz held the ball for 7 minutes and found themselves on the Spartans 4 yard line after a 14 play 54 yard drive. In true championship counter puncher style… the Spartans “bend but don’t break” defense turned the Falconz away with no points. This would be one of many huge defensive stops by both teams to set up the epic battle.
The Spartans would take over and provide a counter drive to midfield only to have Falconz playmaker safety Sara Galica making a great defensive read on the pass and coming up with a drive stopping interception.
Both teams would put up defensive stands for the next possessions to end the first quarter in a push (0-0). The Falconz kicked off another momentum shift at the start of the 2nd quarter with a fumble recovery, when Spartans RB Hannah DeGraffinreed attempted a lateral to WR Liz Landry. The turnover would give the Falconz a short field at the 35 yard line in excellent position to march in for the first score of the game. In a 5 play drive; Falconz QB Lane connected with star running back Cox for a beautiful 12-yard pop pass. The Falconz would take a 7-0 lead, and for the first time all season the Spartans trailed in a game.
The Falconz defense, lead by the outstanding play of hard-hitting linebacker Kayla Brunner, again stopped the Spartans offense and on a 4th down punt attempt. The Spartans defense found themselves on their own 26-yard line as a result of the botched punt attempt. With what looked the turning point of the game; Texas Elite Spartans defense led by big play making safety Jewelle Grimsley, and veteran D-end Griswold stepped up and stopped the Falconz on 4 downs with an interception by Grimsley to turn the Falconz away once again. Texas answered with an impressive drive, lead by handed receiver Maria Jackson for 13 and 27 yards setting up the Spartans first score. Running back Hannah DeGraffinreed would redeem herself with a 12-yard touchdown scramble. In a surprise turn, the Spartans kicking game that had been perfect all year, failed to convert the extra point. With 7:18 left in the half the Falconz would lead 7-7. The Falconz would get another opportunity to extend their lead and go into the half with a big push and set the Spartans back on their shields. Utah did what they do best, using the hurry up offense and methodical running game aided by a key unsportsmanlike penalty (Spartans head coach called back to back time outs) to set up a score with :55 seconds left in the half (QB Lane’s option keeper for a 4 yard touchdown) At halftime, the energized Falconz lead the Spartans 14-6.
Both teams would make adjustments at halftime that would dictate the outcome of the game.
Coach Jenkins made a decision to put the ball in the air, and the game on the shoulders of Spartans QB Bushman. Bushman and the Spartan wide receivers opened the second half moving at lightening speed. With a combination of run and pass, the most critical drive of the game was capped off on a 4th down and 11 yard pass play from Bushman to WR Amanda Heilman. Bushman behind impressive blocking from her offensive line dropped back and threw a bulls eye 35 yard missile over the middle. Heilman (draped by two defenders) executed the play of the game, with one of the most amazing catches in recent memory. Heilman amazing catch seemed to be a direct message from the Spartans to the Falconz that they would never quit.
The completion landed the Spartans on the Falconz 4 yard line (pounding away). Two plays later the Spartans added their second score and closed the gap with a 4 yard touchdown run by playmaker Rasan Gore.
The Falconz answered immediately with a forced fumble, and stopped the Spartans 2 point conversion attempt. Spartans would trail the Falconz 14-12 at the end of the 3rd quarter. The 4th quarter provided play action as exciting as it comes. The Spartans defense clamped down on the Falconz offense, as Utah’s offense would not cross the 50-yard line for the remainder of the game. On the other side, the Falconz defense held strong and capitalized on two unforced turnovers by Texas.
The Spartans regained possession with 12:57 remaining. The ground game, aided by two personal fouls by the Falconz set the ball up at the 10-yard line. The Spartans were able to slice through the Falconz defense allowing Gore to rumble in for a three yard touchdown with the extra point by kicker Valdepena. The Spartans would take the lead with 9:27 left in the game, and would never look back. Utah’s offense tried without success to break free of the Spartan defensive grip. The Spartan defense would make big plays down the stretch to seal the fate of the Falconz. The final play that would seal the game for the Spartans would come on a botched hand off from Falconz QB Lane to fullback Tela, which left the ball on the ground allowing Spartans defensive end Griswold to fall on it for the recovery.
In the end, the Spartans defeated the Falconz with a final score of 19-14 winning the inaugural IX Cup Championship, and taking their place in WNFC and women’s football history.
Contributions to this story by Wayne Valdo