There were plenty of tears and hugs to go around for Blaine on Friday night after a 27-24 loss to Liberty ended its season in the Class 2A bi-district playoffs.
On the sidelines, senior lineman Austin Kelstrup stood crying. Anthony Ball, senior wide receiver, sat on a bench with his head down.
Long after the winning Patriots had left the field, Borderite players gathered at midfield, some struggling with a difficult end to their season and others with a disappointing end to their high school football careers.
“I kind of feel like a part of me is missing,” said senior running back Riley Fritsch. “I just don’t want it to end.”
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The Borderites (6-3) needed a win against the undefeated Patriots to advance from the 2A bi-district playoffs to the first round of state, and for much of the first half, it looked possible.
Blaine scored first, on Fritsch’s 1-yard touchdown run just two minutes into regulation. With three minutes left in the first quarter, the Borderites took a 10-0 lead against Liberty following a 28-yard Kyle Sentkowksi field goal. But the Patriots struck back, scoring four seconds into the second quarter.
Blaine answered with a 6-yard touchdown catch from Chase Abshere to stay 10 points ahead, but Liberty took over after that, scoring two more touchdowns.
Blaine held the lead for all but 32 seconds of the first half, trailing 21-17 at halftime.
Each team scored another touchdown in the third quarter, but despite a Cruz Rodriguez interception for Blaine, Liberty’s defense kept the Borderites from getting closer than the Patriots’ 27-yard line the remainder of the game.
Coach Jay Dodd said the game was hard-fought but very disappointing.
“It was the kind of game that we wanted to get into,” he said. “We were trying to get them into a dog fight and win a game in the second half … and it was right there. It was right there for the taking.”
Dodd said he told his players how great they were as people, and that although one chapter had closed for the seniors, they would move on to do great things.
Senior quarterback Jalen Kortlever completed 12 of 29 passes for 172 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Fritsch had 31 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Ball had 6 receptions for 44 yards, and senior wide receiver Alfonso Dermendziev had two receptions for 74 yards.
Bla – Riley Fritsch 1 run (Kyle Sentkowski kick)
Bla – Sentkowski 28 FG
Lib – Jake Wright 4 run (Holden Kooiker kick)
Bla – Chase Abshere 6 catch (Sentkowski kick)
Lib – Cameron Spaeth 12 run (Kooiker kick)
Lib – Isaiah Owens 30 catch (Kooiker kick)
Lib – Spaeth 3 run
Bla – Fritsch 4 run (Sentkowski kick)
RUSHING – Blaine: Riley Fritsch 31-120, Jalen Kortlever 4-(-3). Liberty: Austin Regis 12-27, Jacob Thoreson 9-43, Jake Wright 5-19, Cameron Spaeth 5-25, Dulin Hayden 4-19, Reilly Larson 2-8.
PASSING – Blaine: Jalen Kortlever 12-29-1-172. Liberty: Austin Regis 6-12-1-161, Noah Wright 1-1-0-32, Kahlil Manning 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING – Blaine: Anthony Ball 8-55, Alfonso Dermendziev 3-111,Chase Abshere 1-6. Liberty: Cameron Spaeth 3-62, Torey Anderson 1-40, Reilly Larson 1-38, Isaiah Owens 1-30, Jacob Thoreson 1-23.