Top Sports Stories of 2012
The Journal counts down its Top 10 sports stories of 2012. Such events include, a new era of Dove Creek High School football, a Montezuma-Cortez regional golf 3-peat, the USA Pro Challenge comes to Montezuma County, Cortez native Eli Tomac continues his ascent in pro motocross and more.
List compiled by Bobby Abplanalp and Dale Shrull
NO. 1: A NEW DOVE CREEK FOOTBALL ERA
It was a late August Friday night under the lights in Dove Creek.
A familiar setting with the stands full of Bulldog blue and yellow and the Dove Creek eight-man football team running over, through and around its opposition.
It was like any other opening night of high school football in the self-proclaimed pinto bean capital.
Except, one thing was different. The man who roamed the Bulldogs' sidelines for 50 years wasn't on the grass. For the first time in a half a century, Ken Soper watched the Bulldogs as a fan.
A new era of Bulldogs' football was unleashed on the gridiron under new head coach Shane Baughman.
Although the coaching is different, Dove Creek football still remains successful. The Bulldogs thrashed the Rangely Panthers 64-36 that Friday night.
A town of roughly 500 people remains divided over the Dolores County School Board's decision to vote out 74-year-old Soper as football coach. The legendary coach led the Bulldogs for 47 years (he was an assistant for three years prior) and was two wins shy of breaking the all-time Colorado state record for victories.
What's done is done and while many Dove Creek residents don't agree with the decision, many people seem to have accepted the change.
"It's about the kids and I've said that from the get-go," said Baughman, who assisted Soper for 10 years and is also the school's head wrestling coach. "I don't care who their coach is or whatever. I just want it to be about them, and if everybody can come out and support them, that's who this is ultimately about."
No. 2: BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK
Montezuma-Cortez High School's golf team was pushed to the limit on an August Tuesday afternoon on their home course, but found a way.
The way of Jakob Rudosky's wedge on the Par-4 18th hole at Conquistador Golf Course.
Rudosky didn't need four shots on No. 18. He needed precision and a little bit of luck to escape the rough.
With the wind at his back, Rudosky fired the golf ball over a tree and onto the green. A couple of stiff 18th green bounces and just like that, the shot was good.
The excitement and shock of Rudosky's spectacular eagle positioned the Panthers to win the one-hole team playoff versus Rifle, and claim their third straight 4A Western Slope Regional Tournament title.
Rudosky and Plewe hugged and the M-CHS fans cheered. The Panthers defended their region title and are going back to state.
It certainly wasn't easy, as M-CHS edged Rifle in the playoff, 12 to 13.
No. 3: PROFESSIONAL CYCLISTS ZIP THROUGH DOLORES
Here they come! And there they go!
It was a thrilling few seconds, with the primary word being "few."
Approximately 500 people, possibly more, lined the streets of Dolores and parts of Highway 145 eagerly anticipating the arrival of the second annual USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The race, touted as the premier cycling race in the U.S., started in Durango with Gov. John Hickenlooper firing the starting gun.
The first group of riders sped down into Dolores around 12:30 p.m., Aug. 20. The 24 riders flew into town with three breaking away furiously racing for the sprint finish line.
Moldova's Serghei Tvetcov of Team Energy pulled ahead to win the sprint. U.S. rider Tyler Farrar, from team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda, won the opening stage with a late sprint in the final kilometer in Telluride in an unofficial time of 4 hours, 42 minutes.
The sounds of cowbells, handed out by local businesses, and raucous cheering echoed throughout Dolores as the riders blitzed through at more than 30 mph. "Man, that was fast," Bob Coates of Dolores said. "I can't believe they go that fast. That was pretty exciting."
The race has some of the top cyclists in the world competing in the seven-day stage race that ends in Denver on Sunday. The field includes six of the top finishers from this year's Tour de France with a total of 126 riders from 24 countries.
By the time the second pack of riders, which is referred to as the peloton, cruised into Dolores, the pace was slower but anything but slow.
The event is one that definitely falls into the don't blink category.
No.4: BULLDOGS RUN OUT OF TIME
Up 18-14 on the road in the howling 50-mile an hour southeastern Colorado winds, the Bulldogs had to punt.
Dove Creek quarterback/punter Dalton Randolph kicked the ball deep and then was leveled by a Granada Bobcat. Despite no roughing-the-punter call, Granada was pinned deep at its own 5 with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs defense had dominated its 8-man quarterfinal playoff game in November. With the Bobcats on their end of the field and with a backup QB, first-year Dove Creek coach Shane Baughman was feeling good about a trip to the semifinals.
However, Bulldogs players, coaches and fans' excitement would soon turn to sorrow.
Three Granada fourth down conversions later, the visiting No. 8-seed Bulldogs found themselves down 20-18 with less than a minute to go.
Dalton Randolph and the offense moved the football to midfield. But unfortunately, the Bulldogs and their season ran out of time. The 16-seed Granada Bobcats pulled off another upset, winning 20-18.
"A heartbreaker to say the least," Baughman said. "We doubled them in first downs. It's one of those games where you're really irritated. It was a bad deal."
It was the Bulldogs first quarterfinal playoff appearance in six years.
No. 5: QUEST FOR GOLD
Dove Creek's Cole Baughman couldn't help but glance up at the person a step higher on the podium. Cole forced a smile and graciously congratulated Adam Baca of Rocky Ford.
A few minutes earlier, Baca had his hand raised in victory and now he was holding a gold medal, while Cole was left clutching silver and a crater of torment.
This is state wrestling.
The contrast between wrestlers in the championship match is almost painful to witness. As the winner breaks out in wild celebration, his coaches, family and teammates join in.
Tied 2-2 after two periods in February at Denver's Pepsi Center, it was Baughman on the wrong end of a 7-2 decision.
For Ryan Daves of Montezuma-Cortez, he was two seconds, yes two seconds, away from a third fourth-place medal.
But this time, he used those final two seconds to score two points and return home with a bronze medal. He has one more shot at the title this year as a senior.
For Wyatt Wade of Dolores, he sums up his season with the word "rough."
Battling nagging injuries and health problems, the talented then junior saw his season of hope spiral into a tormenting nightmare.
In 2011, he was the one looking up from the second-place podium spot. This was supposed to be the year when he would move up one spot.
But state wrestling is a cruel and unmerciful endeavor. Your opponent cares little if you're not 100 percent. Survival of the fittest - there is never any mercy or sympathy.
Even with his struggles and disappointment, Wyatt returned home with a fourth-place medal.
As a freshman for Dove Creek, Chance Randolph earned a third-place medal. Dalton Randolph placed fifth as a junior and Chance Johnson placed sixth as a senior for the Bulldogs.
No. 6: TOMAC WINS AMA SX LITES WEST
Geico Honda's Eli Tomac stayed near the front of the pack in Salt Lake City's Rice-Eccles Stadium in May. Things were going good. Then, some good fortune came from an unfortunate crash by a competitor. The race was there for the taking and Tomac took advantage. The Cortez native led the final five laps over Jason Anderson (Suzuki) to get the win.
It was Tomac's fourth win of the year and Tomac had enough the points to take the SX Lites West championship.
"When I went across the (finish) line in Salt Lake, I didn't even know I actually won," said Tomac of winning the championship.
Winning an AMA points championship at just 19 years old is quite an accomplishment in Tomac's quest for elite status in the sport.
"It's pretty much the childhood dream you could say. To go out there and win a supercross championship," said Tomac, a McElmo Canyon resident.
No. 7: PHILPOTT FINISHES ON TOP
Kenny Philpott won every high jump event his last two years at Mancos High School.
That one runner-up finish came as a junior at the 2011 Colorado High School Activities Association, track and field state championships.
Being a senior in 2012, Philpott was determined to take gold.
"Winning state is something I always wanted to do," he said.
The key to winning a 2A state championship was remaining consistent.
Philpott was able to jump 6 feet, 4 inches in the rain. Other athletes' heights continued to drop like the May rain in Lakewood. Chris Epps of Peyton jumped 6-3 for second-place.
It was Philpott's height that earned him a much coveted state championship.
"It was definitely something. I wish the weather would have been better to jump higher," Philpott said. "Being up on that podium when they call your name, it was a good feeling."
Philpott is high jumping this year at Colorado School of Mines in Golden on a full athletic and academic scholarship. He is majoring in civil engineering.
No. 8: NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!
Yackle Brothers Racing is taking over.
Jake and Nye Yackle are well known in their hometown of Cortez.
Now they're known nationally.
The rise to endurance mountain bike racing prominence continued July 6, at Sun Valley, Idaho. Jake and Nye Yackle raced in their respective classes at the USA Cycling National Championships with one objective at hand - win.
"I was pretty confident with all the races leading up to Nationals with winning," Jake Yackle, 12, said.
"This was my race," a determined Nye added.
For 9-year-old Nye Yackle, he has had to endure often being second to his older brother. And, having to race against people twice his age kept him from finishing near the top in some races.
In Sun Valley, the men's junior 10-Under cross-country class had racers in Nye's age group. The four lap, 7-mile race was his for the taking.
"It feels good to show how good I am in my age group," Nye said.
Nye Yackle did what he set out to do. The kid from Cortez never trailed in the race, dominating his way to a first national championship at 32 minutes, 23 seconds.
For Jake Yackle, things didn't go as smooth in his race. Although one wouldn't realize it after seeing his final time. The elder Yackle trailed the first lap of the cross-country men's junior 11-12 race. Jake's course was five laps, eight miles long. On the first major incline, that's when Jake Yackle made his move.
Jake passed Nathan Hickey (Monrovia, Calif.) going up the switchbacks and never trailed again. Even crashing merely just slowed Jake Yackle down, but didn't derail him of his second USA Cycling national championship, clocking in at 38:32.
No. 9: EVERIN RETIRES AFTER 30 YEARS
Thirty years ago, Jim Everin stepped onto the campus of Dolores High School wearing his trademark shorts and tennis shoes as the physical education teacher.
He made students run, lift weights and taught them to stay active
On May 25, the last day of school before summer break, Everin taught his last P.E. class at the school where he taught for 30 years.
The 54-year-old first stepped onto the DHS campus in 1982.
Everin coached the Dolores Bears baseball team for three decades, as well as handling the school's athletic director duties for more than 25 years.
In the last 10 years, Everin's teams have been San Juan Basin League champions eight times. In 2011, the team made it to the 2A state final four after beating Paonia to secure the regional title. The Paonia Eagles have long been a tormenting rival, especially in the postseason.
"Paonia has always been our nemesis," Everin said.
It was the Dolores Bears best season since a 1982 state championship appearance.
Last spring, the Bears won another SJBL title to advance to the postseason.
Everin was named SJBL 2012 Coach of the Year in his final baseball season.
Not a bad way to end a career.
No. 10: DOMINATION AND DESTRUCTION
With the Towaoc crowd standing, screaming their support with a deafening roar, Elsie Zwicker was the calm in the center of the cage.
There was little sign that the 125-pound powder keg was about to ignite. Little did her opponent, Jessica Kennett, know the punishment and pain that was about to be inflicted upon her.
Zwicker - calm, cool and in control - tapped her fists together as the referee signaled for the fight to begin.
The fuse was lit and Zwicker went TNT on Kennett. Launching herself at her opponent, Zwicker landed a straight right hand to Kennett's head.
Fast and furious, Zwicker assumed immediate control of the 125-pound King of the Cage, Wrangler, Super Fight title bout in July at the Ute Mountain Casino.
Left elbow, left elbow, punch, bam, bam, bam. Vicious and ruthless. It's the only mentality of the cage. Only the strongest will win.
"That's my strategy," Zwicker said about starting fast. "Dad (trainer Sheldon Zwicker) has always told me, if you want the best seat in the house, you gotta get there first."
With five-minute rounds, Zwicker's fast start was designed to try and get the fight stopped as quickly as possible.
She showed no mercy and the crowd was delirious. This is her crowd. Five times she's fought as a professional for the appreciative Towaoc crowd, and five times she left the cage victorious.
That July Saturday night would be her sixth victory in Towaoc to push her pro record to 6-4.
The one they call "sweetheart" is now a mixed martial arts champion.
Durango Herald/Steve Lewis
John Contreras/Lamar Ledger
Photo by Steve Cox, courtesy of Darren Borcherding