PARKER – As the final seconds ticked away, the rain started falling at EchoPark Stadium. But nothing was going to dampen the mood of the hoard of Ponderosa students rushing the field.
Bragging rights in Parker mean everything, especially for Ponderosa. That’s primarily because the Mustangs haven’t had bragging rights over Legend since 2017. In the years following, they were close to beating the Titans, but went home with losses. In their more recent meeting, Legend ran away with a win.
This year, Ponderosa entered the annual matchup as the top-ranked Class 4A team in the CHSAANow.com football rankings, but the team knew it had to back up the hype. Two quick touchdowns, a pass from Zach Stryker to Lyam Edwards and then a Stryker rushing touchdown helped the Mustangs get the early lead they needed. They held strong to get a 21-14 win over the 4A No. 7 Titans.
It can easily be considered just another win as the Mustangs (4-0 overall) set their sights on a state championship, but the reality is that getting a win over Legend is a demon that has needed to be exorcised for five years.
“At the end of the day, it’s a good rivalry,” Ponderosa coach Jaron Cohen said. “It’s a town where the kids played youth together, they’re friends, I get along with their coaches off the field just fine. It’s fun. It’s time we got it back and we’ll put that trophy up in our case.”
Coming into the season there was a bit of uncertainty surrounding Ponderosa. Andrew Heidel, a freshman in 2021, moved out of the state and Stryker took over the job after just attempting two passes last season.
He quickly grew into the role and has become one of the most exciting dual-threat quarterbacks in the state. Heading into the game against the Titans (3-1), he was the Mustangs leading rusher at 109 yards per game. He had a team-high five rushing touchdowns and added another on Friday. He had also thrown for seven touchdowns and been picked off just once. He added two touchdown passes but was also picked off once.
The Mustangs forced their own turnover early, picking off Legend quarterback Brookhart on his first pass of the game. But he eventually settled in and led the Titans down the field where Alex Martinez found the end zone to cut the lead to 14-7.
Stryker then added his second touchdown pass of the night to keep the Mustangs two scores ahead. And he celebrated with the excitement of a player who was seeing the effort he had given to the program paying off.
“I’ve been fighting since I was a freshman,” Stryker said. “I’m definitely embracing this and not taking anything for granted.”
The Titans scored on their first drive of the second half and while the Mustangs were still able to move the ball, putting points was more challenging than in the early minutes of the game. That proved to be the case on a 4th-and-goal call in the third quarter that would’ve made it a two-score game.
“I probably made the wrong call on that fourth down,” Cohen said. “Credit to Legend, they defended that bootleg well. We were having trouble with the snap all game and it’s something we have to work on.”
For two offensive-minded programs, a 21-14 game is something of attention getter. It’s a testament to how each defense battled against a quality opponent. As Legend tries to make another deep 5A playoff run, they can have confidence knowing that with a young team, they only scored 14 points yet still had its chances to win the game.
“I’m proud of how our kids came back and played in the second half,” coach Monte Thelan said. “We just made too many mistakes and all the credit needs to go to Ponderosa.”
Along with that credit will go cross-town bragging rights. At least for a year.