Throughout its perfect 9-0 regular season, the Mancos High School football team beat opponents into submission utilizing a bone-rattling physical style that was unmatched.
During their opening-round playoff matchup, however, it was the No. 2-ranked Bluejays who found themselves on their backsides as No. 15 Merino High School out-muscled Mancos on both sides of the ball and walked away with a 40-0 victory.
“I’ll be honest with you, that’s what we expected,” Mancos head coach Josh Gardner said when asked Merino’s physical style. “They like to run the power, and they’re going to hang their hat on it. They were tenacious today, and they were aggressive. They played tougher than us today.”
While Merino’s ability to dominate the line of scrimmage was a central storyline in the game, turnovers also factored into the final result as Mancos coughed up the ball a season-high four times.
Two of those turnovers came after passes by Bluejays junior quarterback Breccen Morelli were intercepted. Two other turnovers came on costly fumbles. Merino also recovered three onside kicks in the contest.
“We hadn’t had many turnovers this year, and this game, we did have a lot of turnovers, Gardner said. “You can’t win with turnovers. That’s something that did not go our way, and it’s something that you learn from.”
After Mancos kicked off to begin the game, Merino’s offense marched the ball down the field and eventually scored when senior running back Matt Frank took a handoff off left tackle and ran into the end zone from 24 yards out.
A fumble on the Bluejays’ first offensive possession of the game stalled a promising drive, and Merino scored again when Frank scored on a 4-yard running play that put Merino ahead 15-0 with 1:02 left in the first quarter.
Merino’s final touchdown of the first half came with 7:33 left in the second quarter when Trent Elliott scored on a 1-yard touchdown run that put his team 21-0. Merino’s impressive first half was in many ways a continuation of a pattern that began one week ago during its 27-24 win over what was then Colorado’s top-ranked eight-man team, Sedgwick County.
“As you watch the film on (Merino) the last couple games, they’ve really picked it up,” Gardner said. “We knew where they were going, and we loaded it up, and they still got good push on us.”
After halftime ended with Mancos assistant coach Alan Matthews looking for a comeback, the Bluejays defense forced Merino into a three-and-out on its first drive of the second half.
A muffed punt by Mancos junior Anthony Medina on the ensuing play slowed the Bluejays’ momentum, and Merino scored again on a 16-yard run by Frank to put Merino ahead 27-0 with 7:11 left in the third quarter.
Merino pulled ahead 34-0 after a 1-yard scoring run by Elliott with 1:09 left in the third quarter, and the Rams scored their final touchdown early in the fourth quarter when junior quarterback Cade Conger scored on a 60-yard running play around the left side.
Soon after the final buzzer signaled the end of the contest, several Mancos players exchanged hugs and shed tears while Gardner and Matthews put the lopsided loss in perspective.
“I don’t think there was a big expectation for us at the beginning of the year because we had so many young guys,” Gardner said. “(Matthews) and I saw a lot of talent in these guys, and they surprised us with their effort. They played together as a team.”
Among the accomplishments for this year’s group included a league championship and the school’s first undefeated season since 1978. Three seniors, including starters Chance Garcia and Hunter Hoover, will graduate from this year’s squad, but the Bluejays will return several talented underclassmen next year.
“I think we have great expectations for next year because we have so many young guys right now,” Gardner said. “The mindset is get in the weight room and get stronger if you don’t like the way this feels right now. “We need to get bigger in the weight room and work hard this offseason.”
While the sting of the loss is unlikely to subside soon, the team can take solace in its grand accomplishments this season.