Once a staple of Colorado’s 8-man football playoffs, the Dove Creek High School football team has been noticeably absent from the postseason in recent seasons and has not won a playoff contest since 2015.
All of that could change this weekend when the 13th-seeded Bulldogs travel to take on 4th-seeded Vail Christian High School on Saturday. Dove Creek will enter the contest with a 5-4 record overall, while Vail Christian will put its perfect 9-0 record on the line.
While the teams’ drastically different records and playoff seeding presents the picture of a lopsided contest, those familiar with Dove Creek’s football program have expressed optimism that a stunning upset could be on the horizon.
If such an upset is to happen, however, Bulldogs players will need to play as well as they have all season while taking advantage of the size, strength, and physicality of their offensive and defensive lines.
Below are a few things that local fans can look for when their hometown boys travel to one of Colorado’s most notorious ski towns and try to score a win for small-town USA.
Will Cressler shine in his playoff debut?Since taking over as Dove Creek’s starting quarterback early last season, sophomore Chorbin Cressler has established himself as one of the state’s most elusive runners, while winning over home fans with his hard-nosed style.
Until the moment that he takes the field this Saturday, however, Cressler will have never had the opportunity to experience the excitement and intensity that intrinsically comes with playoff football at the 8-man level.
How the Bulldogs’ dual-threat signal caller, who has thrown for 678 yards and nine touchdowns and has rushed for 1,157 yards and 18 touchdowns, handles the pressure figures to greatly impact Dove Creek’s chances against one of the state’s top teams.
If Cressler is able to utilize his legs to break into the open field and make accurate throws from outside of the pocket, Dove Creek will almost certainly have a fighting chance to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season to date.
Can Gray knock Vail Christian into submission?While the ability of Dove Creek’s offense to move the ball figures to be key, any chance of a Bulldogs’ upset will likely begin on the defensive side of the ball where junior linebacker Hayden Gray has made his mark throughout the season.
Equipped with powerful legs and shoulders and known for the countless hours that he spends in the weight room, Gray had led the Bulldogs’ defense with 104 tackles this season and delivered several bone-crushing hits that have left opponents wanting no more.
If Gray, and fellow defensive stalwart Austin Beanland, who has made 76 tackles and come through with eight sacks on the season, are able to dominate at the line of scrimmage, Vail Christian’s offense could be in for a long day.
In the event that Gray is unable to make a major impact on the game, however, Vail Christina’s balanced offense could score a significant number of points and leave Dove Creek’s offense scrambling to catch up.
Can Bailey and Thompson provide balance?Perhaps the most interesting question entering Saturday’s contest is whether Dove Creek can match Vail Christian’s balance on both sides of the ball.
Unlike many 8-man teams in Colorado that rely on one or two star players, Vail Christian has made a living this season distributing the ball to multiple running backs and receivers while keeping opposing defenses off-balance.
Senior quarterback Jamison Lee has led the charge with 940 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 522 rushing yards, and one rushing touchdown. Senior running back Chris Cappel has rushed for 675 yards and 13 touchdowns and senior running back Simon Nowicki has rushed for 564 yards and eight touchdowns.
While Dove Creek has not quite matched Vail Christian in terms of a balanced attack this season, the Bulldogs’ roster features several players that could come through huge this weekend and add multiple layers to Dove Creek’s attack.
Chief among those players are junior running back Gauge Thompson, who has rushed for 679 yards and six touchdowns this season, and junior running back Gage Bailey, who has rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
If both junior running backs are able to get rolling, Dove Creek’s deceptive option offense wrought with counter plays could enjoy a big day on a field that is surrounded by ski slopes and far from home.