Footballs flew like a blizzard in the Saturday sunshine at Sports Authority Field. Pueblo South High, one of the most aggressive offenses in Colorado, let loose.
The Colts were playing in their first state championship game in their 59-year history. So why not push all in? In Pueblo South’s 25-14 takedown of perennial stalwart Pine Creek, the newcomers from Hollywood Drive streaked to an upset victory in the Class 4A state title game with no hint of bashfulness.
Colts quarterback Zach Cozzolino connected for two long touchdown passes in the first quarter and Thomas Pannunzio returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score in the third quarter as Pueblo South (13-1) denied Colorado Springs’ Pine Creek (12-2) its fourth championship in the past seven seasons.
“We really weren’t shy,” said Pueblo South wide receiver Marcell Barbee, the game’s MVP. “We have plenty of playmakers. Our goal is to get each of them the ball. If we do that, we can’t be stopped.”
Cozzolino’s 3-yard dive into the end zone with 5:13 remaining finally pushed the Colts out of reach. But they were airborne from the jump.
Pueblo South led 4A this season by averaging 42.5 points per game, a ridiculous tally of touchdowns behind Cozzolino, a 6-foot senior who threw for 48 touchdowns this season, and senior running back Steve Brock, who ran for 1,724 yards.
The Colts’ early aggressiveness, then, was little surprise. On their second play from scrimmage, Cozzolino threw toward Barbee deep down the right side. Barbee was open. The pass overshot him. But the tandem was not out of step for long.
Barbee ran a slant route from the right side later in the first quarter and after Cozzolino hit him with a pass in the chest, the 6-foot-3 senior shed a one-arm tackle attempt and disappeared into the daylight for a 67-yard touchdown. He finished with 8 receptions for 199 yards.
“They backed off him,” Cozzolino said. “I knew he was going to be open. I trusted him. We got our timing down and it finally paid off.”
Two minutes later, Pueblo South did it again. Cozzolino found senior Jesse Anzar on a post route down the left side for a 37-yard touchdown. The Colts sprinted from view. Cozzolino completed 16-of-28 passes for 295 yards.
Pine Creek weathered a roster stacked with sophomores to remain one of the best in 4A all season. Running back David Moore III, one of those sophomores, rushed for 1,787 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. He is one of the best backs in the state, regardless of classification.
Moore’s game-high 176 yards rushing kept Pine Creek alive. He took over on a 10-play, 79-yard drive early in the third quarter, then capped it with a 3-yard run off left tackle to cut the Eagles’ deficit to 13-6.
Their hope disappeared quickly. Pannunzio fielded the ensuing kickoff at the 7 yard line, stutter stepped the oncoming defenders, waited for a block, they dashed down the left sideline for a game-deciding touchdown. It was his fifth return for a touchdown this season and third on kickoffs. It was Pueblo South’s 13th non-offensive touchdown.
“We just needed to stick together,” Pannunzio said. “If you have any doubt, just leave it behind.”
South’s victory restored the power-center of Colorado football to the southern city with a football pedigree that dates back more than a century. The Colts’ state title was the first for a 5A or 4A Pueblo school since Pueblo West won the 4A title in 2007.
“You look up, you see our community out. It’s a special moment for Pueblo,” said eighth-year Colts coach Ryan Goddard, a Pueblo South graduate in 2001.
Pueblo South … 13 – 0 – 6 – 6 — 25
Pine Creek … 0 – 0 – 7 – 7 — 14
First quarter — PS: Marcell Barbee 67 pass from Zach Cozzolino (Jesse Anzar kick), 4:33. PS: Anzar 31 pass from Cozzolino (kick blocked), 2:08. Second quarter — None. Third quarter — PC: David Moore III 3 run (Cameron Brungardt kick), 7:19. PS: Thomas Pannunzio 93 kickoff return (kick blocked), 7:07. Fourth quarter — PC: Gavin Herberg 7 run (Brungardt kick), 10:28. PS: Cozzolino 3 run (Richie Perez kick missed).
Passing — Pueblo South, Zach Cozzolino 16-for-28, 297 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. Pine Creek, JC Coulter 8-13-103 yards, 1 INT, Gavin Herberg 3-8-51.
Rushing — Pueblo South, Steve Brock 27 carries, 98 yards, 0 TD; Pine Creek, David Moore III 32-176-1, Coulter 6-37, Xavier Hill 2-20, Gavin Herberg 2-2-1.
Receiving — Pueblo South, Marcell Barbee 8 catches, 199 yards, 1 TD, Jeremy Cody 4-42, Thomas Pannunzio 3-23, Jesse Anzar 1-31-1. Pine Creek, Danny Fuhr 2-44, Daniel Bone 2-41, Gavin Herberg 2-22, David Moore 1-19, Max Lofy 1-10, Nate Vasquez 1-10, Gene McFarland 1-6, Jay Onken 1-2.
Defense — Pueblo South, Braden Christie 12 tackles, 0.5 sack, Khalil Eaton 11-0, Andy Smith 9-0.5, Noah Huth 8-0, Thomas Pannunzio 7-0, Marcell Barbee 5-0, Ryan Montoya 5-0. Pine Creek, Eddie Kyle 9-0, Rece Rowan, 9-0.5, Sam Miller 8-0.5, Max Lofy 6-0, Elias Rolfe 5-1, Alex Wood 5-0, Isaak Rolfe 5-0.
Listen to the archived broadcast:
Pueblo South, WR, Marcell Barbee
His eight catches for 199 yards, including an early 67-yard touchdown on a slant route from the right side, presented Pine Creek with its most difficult matchup. Barbee boxed out defenders on the outside with his intimidating 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame.
And, as Barbee walked off the field toward the locker room, he was congratulated with, among others, a handshake from Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo.
“We really did it,” Barbee shouted. “I’m gonna go home and celebrate with my mom.”