PUEBLO – Throwing an interception on the third play of the game isn’t exactly how Kade Hankins dreamed of starting off his state championship game experience. But it’s the start that’s important, it’s the finish.

And by the finish, the Dove Creek quarterback had his hands full with an 8-man football state championship trophy. The first in school history.

The Bulldogs overcame an early turnover and jumped out to a three-score lead in the first half, riding it to a 26-21 win over Simla to win the school’s first football championship.

“I just took a deep breath, calmed down and knew that we were a good team,” Hankins said. “We can’t be throwing the ball away.”

As much as the interception, the first of two that Hankins threw in the first half, could have swung momentum toward Simla, Dove Creek escaped unscathed. The Cubs missed a field goal attempt that would ultimately be their best scoring opportunity of the first 24 minutes.

Gage Buffington took advantage of the missed kick and broke for an 80-yard touchdown run to get the Bulldogs (13-0 overall) on the board.

“That was the reason we switched the momentum that quick,” Buffington said. “As soon you break through, you’re first thought is you’re gone. But with 8-man you never know, there is a ton of speed in this game.”

Buffington added a receiving touchdown later in the half which cemented his status as the game’s Most Outstanding Player. He finished the day with 132 rushing yards, 29 receiving yards and two total touchdowns.

(Dan Mohrmann/ColoradoPreps.com)

Kendall Gardner scored a rushing touchdown in between Buffington’s scores. Every single score of that first half mattered as the offenses on both sides of the ball slowed in the second half. Simla got on the board thanks to a rushing score from TJ Eurich.

Hankins evened it out with a one-yard rushing touchdown of his own to keep the Bulldogs up three scores. The Cubs (12-1) found a bit more offensive rhythm in the second half, but their inability to keep pace in the first half made the lead insurmountable.

Not that the Cubs weren’t going to put everything out there. After cutting the lead to 26-14 on a Caston Cox touchdown pass to Eurich, they recovered an onside kicked and powered by a hook-and-ladder, got to the end zone one more time to make it a one-score game.

“Thank goodness we got the one score up there (in the second half) because they had no quit in them,” coach Shane Baughman said. “They never quit.”

But the Bulldogs weren’t going to let history slip away from them. They recovered the second onside kick attempt from Simla and needed just one kneel down to officially cement themselves as legends in Dove Creek history.

“It means a lot,” Buffington said. “It’s never been done before.”

When thinking about how much this means to the town, the school and most importantly the kids, Baughman couldn’t remove the smile from his face. For as long as he’s around, he gets to remind this group of players that they’ve done something that no one else in the history of the program has accomplished.

“I’ll never get tired of telling them that,” he said.

And judging from their reactions, they’ll never tire of hearing it.

(Dan Mohrmann/ColoradoPreps.com)