In a heartbreaking 38-14 outcome, the South Park High School Burro football team lost their homecoming matchup against the Denver Christian Thunder Sept. 14.

A first shot in conference play, the Burros have descended to a current 0-1 within the A-8 Central, along with a 0-3 on the season, to reside at the bottom of the five-team standings below Denver Christian (1-0, 1-0), Front Range Christian (2-1, 0-0), Elbert (2-1, 0-0), and Justice (0-2, 0-0).

At the kickoff, Michael Kelley booted the ball out of the end zone for the Thunder to take first possession at the 20-yard line. In three kickoffs throughout the game, the senior kicker was able to finish with a total of 92 yards, (his longest being a 60-yard kickoff), and one touchback.

A well-organized Denver Christian took to the field on the attack and obtained their first first-down execution on their second play, which was stopped by Leo Banuelos. In a series of threats, the junior was able to finish the game with a total of six tackles (five solo, one assisted).

The Burros continued with a structured and aggressive defense to find Matthew Ryszkowski on the sack, followed by Banuelos with a pass deflection. Senior Ryszkowski remained solid throughout the game to finish with five total tackles (three solo, two assisted) and caused a single fumble for the Thunder.

Feeling the pressure and needing to get the ball out of the crowd, the Thunder threw for a long pass and finished by running it in for a first game touchdown. Yet the Burro defense held and denied the point after touchdown conversion.

Prohibited from returning the kickoff after back-to-back, out-of-bounds penalties on Denver Christian, the Burros took their first possession at the 35-yard line. However, a solid Thunder line forced the Burros to punt after four plays and took over at their own 25-yard line, from where they marched into South Park territory.

Caught on a false start, the Burros suffered a five-yard penalty, which cost them a first down. The Thunder continued to put the weight on the Burros with a lobg pass to position them in the danger zone for South Park, but the Burros stopped the force at the nine-yard line and were rewarded with a Denver Christian penalty and the loss of five yards for the opponent.

The Thunder pushed forward once again, but the Burros held tight and stopped the progression at one yard and goal-to-go. In another push, the Thunder commanded the play for their second touchdown and followed through with a successful rushing conversion.

Trailing 14-0, South Park geared up the offensive end and began to execute as John O’Donnell rushed for five yards, followed by a quarterback sweep from Kelley for seven yards and a South Park first-down.

In 17 carries throughout the game, senior O’Donnell was able to finish with a total of 57 rushing yards, while Kelley wrapped up in 12 carries and a total of 60 yards by game’s end.

The Burros continued to gain ground with each play and were left with one yard to go on third down. With nothing to lose and the clock having seconds to go, the Burros went for it to obtain another first down to finish the first quarter.

Just as the Burros began to find their balance, Denver Christian intercepted their first of three passes from Kelley and took over at the top of the second quarter. While South Park defense held strong and deprived their opponent from gaining on the ground, the Thunder flashed from the air with a short pass and an extended dash to the end zone. A successful rushing PAT conversion then put the Thunder leading 22-0.

Having taken enough of the harassment, the Burros struck as Kelley completed a 20-yard pass to number 2 Hector Almeida to get the ball moving for South Park.

In 18 attempts, Kelley was able to finish the game with seven completions and racked up a total of 81 yards, while junior Almeida recorded five receptions for a total of 63 yards.

Held on the fourth down of the possession, the Thunder pressured Kelley, but the Burro captain maintained his composure to complete another 20-yard pass to Almeida to advance South Park to a first down in the middle of Denver Christian territory.

The Burros continued to march their way down the field as the senior quarterback bolted from the blue for a 10-yard rush to place his team on the 20-yard line. The persistent Burro offense then saw Banuelos on the receiving end of a short pitch that not only advanced yardage, but found Denver Christian on a tackling penalty to place the Burros at first-down with five yards to the end zone.

In that one reception, Banuelos was able to register seven receiving yards.

With ten seconds left to go, Kelley burst from behind the line to make South Park’s first touchdown, which was followed by an unsuccessful passing PAT, but allowed the Burros to climb to onto the board at 22-6.

Spurred into action, the Burros carried out a short kick to the 40-yard line and proceeded to pressure their opponent’s pass, but were given a penalty to lose 15 yards. Still not swayed, the Burros continued the pressure to force a Denver Christian fumble, and South Park closed the half with Silas Newton recovering the ball.

In a single fumble recovery, freshman Newton was able to gain a yard, but also contributed throughout the game with 15 rushing yards in two carries and wrapped up for four total tackles (two solo, two assisted).

Down by 16 points at the top of the third quarter, the Burro offense labored to reignite the fire that they held before the half, but the Thunder defense shelved the attempt and took over on their own 30-yard line, where Monte Downare stopped the first play with zero gain. The freshman was able to finish the game with six total tackles (four solo, two assisted).

The Burros continued to rally as the Thunder were forced to run on fourth down, where they got the yards, but were halted by Ryszkowski.

Reorganizing on first down, the Thunder broke from the masses for a 20-yard rush, but once again, Downare was on the seize. Redirecting, the Thunder retrieved to the pass, where they were able to move deep into Burro territory before being stopped by Kelley, who led his team with 13 total tackles for the day (11 solo, two assisted).

At first-and-goal, the Burro defensive line built a wall and shot down the Thunder’s penetration, but the opponent made a left sweep to follow and scored. The unsuccessful PAT landed the Thunder with an additional six points to lead 28-6.

Following the return from O’Donnell, who led his team with 28 kickoff return yards, the Burros increased distance as Newton pushed for a first-and-ten to border Denver Christian country. With a 15-yard pass from Kelley to Almeida, followed by a strong drive from Drake Hermansen, the Burros maneuvered to a first down with a final push from O’Donnell.

In three carries, sophomore Hermansen was able to turn in 12 yards by game’s end.

While the Burros were called on a motion penalty to lose five yards, they didn’t let it get under their skin as a completed pass from Kelley to Almeida pushed the team to first-and-goal. Keeping control, the Burros landed in the end zone with a rushing touchdown from O’Donnell, followed by a rushing PAT conversion from Kelley.

A scoring margin of 28-14 at the top of the fourth quarter put the Thunder on the fight as the opponent picked up a first down on a long pass, which was stopped by Downare on the 20-yard line. Yielding to the Thunder, the Burros held at second-and-goal as Downare forced another 15-yard loss on Denver Christian.

Capitalizing on the threat, the Burro defense continued to frustrate their opponent and drive them backwards as the Thunder lost yardage on a sequence of penalties until Almeida intercepted a 45-yard pass for the gain of a single Burro yard.

The Thunder then responded with a safety on Kelley to raise the score 30-14.

Still on the fight, the Burros carried out their aggressive defensive to force Denver Christian to make multiple mistakes and the loss of yards until forced to punt.

Taking over on their 28-yard line, the Burros were mugged in the first possession as the Thunder intercepted a pass and pushed down the field for a final game touchdown. A successful PAT conversion ended the game with an additional two points.

Next up

The Burros will now prepare to challenge the Front Range Christian Falcons in an away conference game Sept. 20.

The Falcons will enter the contest holding a 2-1 season record after a 38-20 win over Byers Sept. 13.

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