Several local players dazzle in Rocky Mountain Showdown

Creek’s Zilinskas, Ralston Valley’s Wilson start in 92nd CU-CSU game

Alex K.W. Schultz Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 9/18/23

What a game. What a weekend. What a spectacle. And several local players were part of it all.

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Several local players dazzle in Rocky Mountain Showdown

Creek’s Zilinskas, Ralston Valley’s Wilson start in 92nd CU-CSU game


What a game. What a weekend. What a spectacle.

And several local players were part of it all.

Legions of fans, celebrities, sportswriters, photographers, camera crews and people just wanting to witness the pageantry descended on Boulder the week of Sept. 16 for the 92nd Rocky Mountain Showdown between in-state rivals Colorado and Colorado State.

ESPN’s “College GameDay” and Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” shows were there. So was CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Rapper Lil Wayne and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, among a host of other big names and their entourages, were there, too.

The day before the game, ESPN personalities Desmond Howard, Stephen A. Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Pat McAfee and Pete Thamel were there doing their respective shows.

The better question probably was, “Who wasn’t there?”

Which is incredible to say because before Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, CU’s larger-than-life coach, arrived in Boulder, when the Buffaloes and Rams squared off on the gridiron, most people simply said, “Who cares?” and went on their marry way.

Now everyone cares.

Including and probably especially the players once the Folsom Field lights turned on and the pads started cracking. The Buffs and Rams pounded on each other all night and into the morning before CU, a 23-point favorite, prevailed 43-35 in a double-overtime thriller. The game kicked off at 8:21 p.m. Sept. 16 and ended at 12:25 a.m. the next day, the Buffs needing every second of the four-plus-hours slugfest to hold off their feisty rivals from up north.

Two players from Colorado Community Media’s various coverage areas started in the rivalry tilt.

Hank Zilinskas, a four-year varsity player at Cherry Creek, got the start at center for the injured Van Wells, becoming just the second player in CU history to start at center as a true freshman and the 14th true freshman to start anywhere along the offensive line for the Buffs.

“He stepped up,” Sanders said of Zilinskas in his postgame press conference. “This business is the next-man-up type of business, so I’m proud that he stepped up.”

The other local player who started was Chase Wilson, who was a three-sport standout at Ralston Valley. Wilson, a redshirt junior, was sensational for CSU, recording a team-second-best eight tackles (seven solo, one assisted). He also had a pass breakup. Two weeks earlier, Wilson logged 12 tackles in CSU’s season opener against Washington State in Fort Collins.

Arden Walker, who was a first-team All-Centennial League selection and the Centennial League’s defensive MVP as a senior at Creek, also saw playing time for the Buffs. The sophomore defensive end had a big pass breakup on the Rams’ first series of the night, nearly picking off CSU quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi’s swing pass for what would have been an easy pick-six. Walker also recovered a fumble and had a quarterback hurry against Nebraska the week before.

Eleven other local players suited up for the Showdown: Colton Allen (CU, Valor Christian), Dante Capolungo (CU, Dakota Ridge), Charlie Offerdahl (CU, Dakota Ridge), Cristiano Palazzo (CU, Heritage), Jack Seavall (CU, Arapahoe), Keegan Hamilton (CSU, Rock Canyon), Aaron Karas (CSU, Pomona), Tanner Morley (CSU, Valor), Clay Nanke (CSU, Regis Jesuit), Vann Schield (CSU, Rock Canyon) and Javion Smith-Combs (CSU, Creek).

Though not from one of CCM’s coverage areas, Rams defensive back Henry Blackburn, a graduate of Fairview in Boulder, was involved in the most controversial play of the night.

On a second-and-10 play for the Buffs late in the first quarter, Blackburn hit Travis Hunter, CU’s two-way star and Heisman hopeful, well after Hunter had given up on the long pass down the sideline. Many on social media, including Fox Sports 1’s Skip Bayless and retired NFL players Emmanuel Acho, Dez Bryant and Robert Griffin III, called Blackburn’s hit a “cheap shot” and “dirty.”

Hunter, the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2022, was taken to a local hospital to be evaluated. After the game, Sanders said Hunter, who plays both receiver and cornerback, will likely be out “a few weeks.”

“We will do what we must to take care of him,” Sanders said of Hunter. “I know Travis probably will want to be out for two weeks. But we got to make sure he is OK. His health is more important in this game.”

Of gameday itself, Sanders said: “Campus was electric today. I don’t know if some of you got a chance to witness it, but campus was electric today. Don’t dismiss the fact that we’re always recruiting, so when those high school kids who do our recruiting trips see this kind of stuff, it’s great. One of the big fellas just said, ‘Hey, man. It’s different. This is straight up different here.’”

So long as Sanders remains in the Centennial State, Boulder will continue to be electric.

Next year’s Buffs-Rams game at CSU’s Canvas Stadium should be electric, too. It’ll be the first Rocky Mountain Showdown in Fort Collins since 1996.

Will the Rams end a six-game losing streak to the Buffs? Will Zilinskas, Wilson and Walker be back out there? What other local players will suit up for the rivalry clash?

Tune in in 52 weeks for the answers.

colorado buffaloes, colorado strate rams, college football, high school football, prep sports, sports, local sports., colorado prep sports, ralston valley high school, cherry creek high school, heritage high school,


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