On a night in which temperatures dipped into the mid-20s and the majority of fans watched from the warm confines of their trucks, the Mancos High School and Dove Creek High School football teams staged one of the most physical contests in recent memory.
With each crushing hit and each bone-rattling block, the intensity on the field increased, and when the clock finally expired on Nov. 1 with Mancos leading 14-6, players on both sides sported blood on their jerseys and bruises on their bodies.
While little separated the two eight-man foes during four quarters of play, two first-quarter touchdowns by the Bluejays and three second-half turnovers by the Bulldogs proved to be the difference as Mancos improved its record to 8-1 and Dove Creek fell to 5-4 overall.
“We kept with our system, and we ran power football,” Mancos quarterback Breccen Morelli said. “Even when our power game wasn’t working, we continued playing solid defense, and that was big.”
Although the game’s final result was anything but certain until the final seconds of the fourth quarter, the opening quarter had the feel of a Bluejays blowout as Mancos dictated play on both sides of the ball.
Mancos’ first score of the game came on its opening offensive possession when Morelli tossed a 29-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back Chase Moore with 9:22 left in the opening quarter.
The touchdown strike came on a fourth-and-three play that started with a play-action fake and ended with Morelli heaving a long strike to a wide-open Moore down the left sideline. A three-yard run by Moore on the ensuing two-point conversion put Mancos ahead 8-0.
The Bluejays’ second touchdown came with 2:31 left in the first quarter. Senior running back Anthony Medina caught a 28-yard pass, and Moore later raced into the end zone from 6 yards out to put his team ahead 14-0.
“We’re a power football team. I hope that’s what we’re known for, but we’re working on our passing game, and we want to be a dual-threat team,” said Morelli. “Our passing game was huge tonight.”
While the Bluejays’ second touchdown of the contest seemingly set the stage for a blowout, Dove Creek players remained poised throughout the waning moments before breaking through with 6:22 in the second quarter on a 39-yard run by sophomore quarterback Chorbin Cressler.
Keying Cressler’s run was a block by junior center Austin Beanland at the point of attack and a perfectly timed right-to-left cut by Dove Creek’s signal caller that allowed him to break free in the open field and narrow his team’s deficit to 14-6.
“We faced a little adversity (in the first quarter) with a couple of early penalties, and we got down a couple of scores,” Dove Creek head coach Shane Baughman said. “The way that (our players) battled back showed their heart and their never-give-up attitude. I appreciate that.”
With the game hanging in the balance throughout the second half, players on both sides came through with several key defensive plays, including two interceptions by Mancos junior Christian Cova and fumble recoveries by Dove Creek’s Kade Hankins and Hayden Gray.
Bone-rattling hits by Gray and Mancos junior Colt Fury from their linebacker positions also limited the effectiveness of both offenses as the Mancos defense forced six turnovers and the Dove Creek defense forced four.
“I think we’re the hardest-hitting football team out there, and I think we definitely showed that tonight,” Fury said. “We had a lot of players out, and we were running on our second string, but our defense kept coming up huge.”
While gaining positive yardage proved to be at a premium throughout the final two quarters, Dove Creek’s offense appeared poised to strike gold midway late in the third quarter after a lengthy drive that penetrated deep into Mancos territory.
A fumble by junior running back Gage Bailey at the Mancos 23-yard-line stymied the Bulldogs’ progress however, and the blue-and-gold-clad team from deep in farm country was unable to score during the game’s final 14 minutes.
Statistical leaders for the Bluejays included Moore, who rushed for a game-high 148 yards and amassed 29 yards receiving. Cova and Medina each had interceptions for Mancos. Fury was credited with a game-high 21 tackles.
Dove Creek was led offensively by Cressler, who rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown and threw for 56 yards. Junior Gauge Thompson rushed for 52 yards, and Bailey rushed for 49. Gray led the Bulldogs defense with 15 total tackles, and Beanland and Walker Cressler each had one sack.
With its season now complete, Mancos will enter Colorado’s eight-man football playoffs as the sixth seed in a 16-team field. The Bluejays will play at home against 11th seed Caliche on Nov. 9.
Dove Creek will enter Colorado’s eight-man football playoffs as the 13th-seeded team and will travel to face No. 4 seed Vail Christian High School on Nov. 9.
“We have to look at every single game like it’s our last because at this point, it is,” Morelli said. “We can’t take anybody for granted, and we have to go out and do what we do and not change too much. We need to play the way that we play.”
If the sheer physicality of Friday’s contest is any indication, the Bluejays and the Bulldogs will make their playoff presence felt through brute force regardless of Saturday’s playoff results.