When the Mancos High School football team struts onto its home field for a state quarterfinals matchup against Fowler High School on Saturday at 1 p.m., it will do so knowing that a near-perfect performance will be necessary to advance.
Standout performances by local stars such as senior quarterback Breccen Morelli, senior running back Chase Moore, senior safety Anthony Medina and junior linebacker Colt Fury will be necessary, as will solid games from several role players on both sides of the ball.
Regardless of the contest’s final result, physicality at the line of scrimmage and bone-crushing hits in the secondary figure to be the norm as two of Colorado’s most physical teams attempt to advance to the state semifinals.
In what will undoubtedly be Mancos’ most challenging matchup of the year thus far, below are a few things to watch for as they raise the noise level on the Bluejays’ home field and push their beloved team toward victory.
How will the Bluejays contain Fowler’s offense?While superior offensive firepower has keyed the majority of Mancos’ victories this season, the outcome of Saturday’s matchup against Fowler could be determined by the ability of the Bluejays’ defense to keep points off the board.
Entering the game with a 10-0 record overall and a 6-0 record in the Arkansas Valley League, Fowler’s multifaceted offensive attack has feasted on opposing defenses this season, as evidenced by the fact the Grizzlies have scored at least 50 points in nine of their 10 games.
Leading the way for Fowler’s offense has been senior quarterback Luke Bitter, who has thrown for 973 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 500 yards and nine touchdowns. Running back Joshua Daniels has also been dangerous in the open field, as he has rushed for 1,110 yards and 19 touchdowns on the year.
Rounding out Fowler’s multifaceted rushing attack has been junior speedster Jackson Bates, who has run for 1,057 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. As a team, Fowler has averaged 10.2 yards per carry while rushing for 3,435 yards and 58 touchdowns.
To combat their opponents’ powerful offensive attack, the Bluejays will look to junior linebacker Fury, who has made 152 tackles this season, and junior linebacker Christian Cova, who has been credited with 103 tackles and three interceptions.
Senior safety Medina’s ability to utilize his speed to make tackles in the open field and add to his five interceptions this season could also be key, as could the ability of Morelli to pressure Bitter and add to his team-leading eight sacks this season.
Throughout the opening minutes of the contest, fans can expect Mancos to pack six or even seven players near the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop the run and force Bitter to throw the ball downfield.
Can the Bluejays move the ball against Fowler’s defense?Although offensive production has not been a problem for Mancos this season, the Bluejays have yet to face a defense as tough as Fowler’s, which has allowed more than one touchdown in just one game this season.
In an attempt to put points on the board, Mancos will look to sophomore running back Moore, who ranks as the top rusher in Colorado’s 8-man classification with 1,830 rushing yards and 31 rushing touchdowns.
If Fowler is able to contain Moore early on, look for the Bluejays to put the ball in the hands of Morelli, who has rushed for 516 yards and nine touchdowns and thrown for 368 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Medina’s speed could also factor heavily on the outcome of the game, as the senior who has rushed for 440 yards and five touchdowns this season will likely be the fastest player on the field.
The ability of senior lineman Nick Dan and sophomore lineman Michael Velasquez to win the battle at the point of attack could also prove to be a difference maker, as Fowler’s offensive and defensive lines have consistently dominated opponents this season.
X-factor and predictionIn a contest featuring two of the state’s most powerful offenses and two of the state’s most powerful defenses, which team performs better on special teams could be crucial to determining the outcome of the contest.
Moore and Medina will likely need to perform well in the return game if Mancos is to come away with a win, and the ability of Cova to turn field position with his powerful leg in the punting game could be a difference-maker.
While predicting winners in 8-man playoff contests is never easy, gut sense suggests the Bluejays will draw energy from what figures to be a ruckus home crowd and walk away with a hard-fought 40-34 victory on Saturday.