Just over a year after losing to Sanford, the Mancos High School football team will have the opportunity to redeem themselves when they hit the road for an opening round eight-man playoffs matchup against the Indians on Nov. 21.
Among the leading storylines heading into the high-profile contest is the matchup between Mancos junior running back Chase Moore and Sanford junior running back Kelton Gartrell, who are widely recognized as two of the top competitors in their classification.
In last season’s matchup between the two teams, Gartrell got the best of Moore by scoring four touchdowns to help propel Sanford to a 52-24 victory. After running for 791 yards and 14 touchdowns this season however, Moore appears to be poised for redemption.
“I am just excited (to be playing football),” Moore said after his team’s victory over Hayden earlier this year. “We did what we did best, and we played our hardest. I just followed my blocks and good things happened.
Containing Sanford’s running gameWhile individual statistics for Sanford’s season are not posted online, it is no secret that containing Gartrell is the key for any team hoping to walk away from a game against the Indians with a victory.
In order to contain Sanford’s versatile junior running back, Mancos will lean heavily on senior linebacker Colt Fury, whose hard-hitting style and nose for the ball have helped him become one of the state’s best defensive players in recent seasons.
Also figuring to play a role in stopping Gartrell will be senior linebacker Christian Cova, whose 42 tackles this season rank second on the Mancos team. Bluejays defensive ends Lot Martin and Jesse Henry will be counted on to keep containment, while Kail Wayman and Moore will do their best to prevent big plays from their positions in the defensive secondary.
“Football is all about physicality,” said Fury, when asked about his team’s defense earlier this season. “I think we’re the hardest-hitting team in eight-man football right now.”
Balanced attack a necessity for MancosAlthough it is no secret that the Mancos’ offense starts and stops with Moore, the Bluejays’ ability to involve multiple players in their offense will be key if they hope to upset the No. 2 seed Sanford squad.
Among the players most likely to complement Moore is sophomore quarterback Ayden Mathews, who has flashed the ability to throw the ball downfield this season while amassing 295 passing yards and eight passing touchdowns.
“A big part of our game is our run game,” said Mathews, after throwing five touchdown passes against Norwood earlier this year. “We wanted to get (the Norwood defense) coming forward and then toss it over them. That’s a big goal for our season and a big goal for seasons to come as well.”
Along with Mathews, fullback/receiver Christian Cova and receiver James Wagoner could play a key role for their team in the event that the Sanford defense hones in on Moore. Thus far this season, Cova has accumulated 163 yards rushing and 120 yards receiving, and Wagoner has caught two touchdowns.
“We’re a power football team,” Cova said. “Hard and strong is how we’ve always wanted to play.”
Limiting mistakes could make the differenceWhile Sanford will be the favored team entering Saturday’s contest, players and coaches on both sides have emphasized that the team that is able to limit its mistakes and make plays during key times is likely to walk away with the victory.
“We need to not make mistakes and keep the ball off the ground,” Mancos head coach Josh Gardner said. “We had a couple of bad snaps and multiple turnovers (against Dove Creek). If we can control the ball, we’ll be fine.”
In the event that Mancos pulls an upset against Sanford, the seventh-seeded Bluejays will play the winner of an opening-round playoff matchup between third-seeded Fowler and sixth-seeded Merino.
For now though, Mancos’ sole focus will be on redeeming themselves against a tough Sanford squad that shocked them last season.