At times Friday night, the Loveland football team looked like the squad on a nine-game winning streak it was, making big plays on offense and defense.

At other times, the Red Wolves shot themselves in the foot with costly penalties and uncharacteristic turnovers.

In the end, the positives outweighed the negatives as the Red Wolves (10-1) defeated Dakota Ridge, 35-21, in a Class 4A second-round playoff game at Ray Patterson Stadium.

“We knew they were going to be a tough team,” Loveland head coach Allan Jeffries said. “They are very battle-tested if you look at their schedule coming in. They had some tough, tough opponents coming in. Their record didn’t really reflect how darn good they are.”

Loveland opened the game with its first big play of the night, and it came on the offensive side. On the Red Wolves’ first possession, Drew Foley broke loose and raced down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown to give Loveland a 7-0 lead with 11:09 remaining in the first quarter.

Later in the period, Garrett Harstad scored on an 18-yard run to push the Red Wolves’ lead to 14-0 with 5:49 remaining in the opening quarter.

Then it was the Loveland defense’s turn to make a big play and it did, intercepting a Dakota Ridge pass in the end zone with 4:20 left in the quarter. However, a couple of plays later, the Red Wolves fumbled the ball right back to the Eagles with 2:29 to go in the period.

Dakota Ridge turned that fumble into its first points of the game, scoring on an 8-yard run with 11:17 left in the second quarter to cut the Loveland lead to 21-7.

Loveland answered, scoring on a 39-yard run by Jude Meiu with 8:59 to go before halftime to make it a two-touchdown lead again for the Red Wolves.

Late in the quarter, the Red Wolves’ defense stepped up again, making a fourth-down stop at their own 5-yard line to prevent Dakota Ridge from cutting into their lead just before halftime.

Loveland tried to drive for another touchdown, but with 17 seconds left in the half, Harstad threw an interception. Dakota Ridge had time for a couple of plays, but the half ended with an incomplete pass.

The big plays for Loveland continued in the third quarter. After forcing a Dakota Ridge punt, the Red Wolves were backed up at their own 9. But after moving to their own 42, Meiu broke free down the sideline and sidestepped an Eagle defender at the Dakota Ridge 10-yard line for a 58-yard touchdown to give the Red Wolves a 28-7 lead with 6:33 remaining in the third quarter.

“We made some adjustments at halftime that worked in our favor,” Jeffries said. “We knew if we got that first stop out of the gate and went down and scored, it would be a backbreaker and fortunately we got that done.”

With 5:37 left in the third period, the Red Wolves’ defense made another fourth-down stop, but the Loveland offense couldn’t convert a fourth down of its own and the Eagles were able to drive and score on a 5-yard run to cut the Loveland lead to 28-14 with 53 seconds left in the quarter. That drive was aided by a pair of penalties on the Red Wolves that totaled 25 yards.

But the Red Wolves answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Trent Stephenson to extend their lead to 35-14 with 6:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.

When Dakota Ridge scored its final touchdown on a 5-yard run with 3:04 remaining in the game to cut the Loveland lead to 35-21, it marked the most points the Red Wolves had given up since their season-opening 36-35 loss to Fossil Ridge.

“I think we played really well physically,” Meiu said. “I think we can work on keeping our composure, keeping our cool. We’re not planning on stopping soon. We’ve got a few more games ahead of us.”

Loveland advances to face Golden or Montrose in the quarterfinals next weekend.

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