As youngsters growing up in Dove Creek, Hayden Gray, Austin Beanland, Gage Bailey, Zed Hall and Gauge Thompson stood near the sidelines of their team’s home field while dreaming of one day bringing gridiron glory to their football-crazed community.
Now, thanks to a 4-1 record during a regular season that was highlighted by an upset victory over Mancos, the Bulldogs’ senior quintet will have the opportunity to realize their childhood dreams when they open the eight-man football playoffs at home against Rangely at 1 p.m. on Nov. 21.
“This season is what we’ve been waiting for – we’re bigger and older,” Gray said earlier this year. “We want to make sure that people remember this team from this year, and hopefully, we can go deep in the playoffs and even win a state championship.”
Bulldogs defense figures to be keyWhile eventually hoisting a state championship trophy is clearly the Bulldogs’ goal, realizing that dream will require a solid effort against a Rangely team that won all six of its games during the regular season and enters the playoffs as Colorado’s fifth-seeded team.
Leading the way for the Panthers will be junior quarterback Keihlin Myers, who has showcased an ability to beat opponents with his arm and his legs while throwing for 442 yards and five touchdowns and running for 242 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Also playing a big role for Rangely’s offense have been junior running back Zane Varner, who leads his team in rushing with 920 yards and nine touchdowns, and senior Anthony Lujan, who has rushed for 338 yards this year.
Although containing Rangely’s multifaceted attack has proven to be difficult for opponents this season, pressuring Myers could prove key for the Bulldogs, who have sacked opposing quarterbacks 19 times this season.
Among the Dove Creek players capable of disrupting Rangely’s offense in the backfield will be Beanland, who leads his team with eight sacks this year. Gray could also prove to be a difference maker as the senior linebacker’s hard-hitting has terrified opponents all year.
“Gray sets the tone with physicality, and he’s a leader for us,” Bulldogs head coach Shane Baughman said. “He takes command of the huddle on defense and offense. It really helps us.”
Bulldogs running game set to make differenceWhile limiting Rangely’s offense will be necessary for Dove Creek to pick up a victory, putting points on the board will also be vital if the Bulldogs hope to make it out of the opening round.
Likely to lead Dove Creek’s offensive attack will be junior quarterback Chorbin Cressler, who has thrown for 229 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 413 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Also expected to play a key role for the Bulldogs’ potent offense will be Bailey, who leads the team in rushing with 716 yards and seven touchdowns, and Thompson, whose powerful style has yielded 494 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns this season.
“We’re loaded with confidence,” Bailey said, after referring to his team’s powerful backfield as “a three-headed monster.” “We keep our heads in the game, and we have great practices every single week. We just be doing what we be doing, and we’re going to go far this year.”
Turnovers could be a difference makerAlthough several factors could ultimately influence the outcome of what figures to be a competitive game, the ability of both teams’ offenses to protect the ball and both teams’ defenses to force turnovers could make the difference.
Among those likely to play a key role in the turnover battle will be Dove Creek sophomore Kade Hankins, who leads his team with three interceptions this season and has increasingly shown the ability to jump into throwing lanes as the season has progressed.
“What we need to understand is that against a good team, we have to be happy with five yards at a whack,” Baughman said earlier this year. “Sometimes we tried to do too much and that ended up costing us.”
In the event that Dove Creek defeats Rangely on Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs will play the winner of an opening round playoff matchup between top-ranked Sedgwick County and eighth-seeded Crowley County this weekend.
For now though, Dove Creek’s singular focus is on thrilling its home fans with what would be the team’s first playoff victory in five years.
“We have an amazing bond, we’re a brotherhood, and we’ve been playing football together since we were four,” Johnson said. “We’re going to keep grinding and doing our work. We’re going to try to not have very many penalties and we’re going to work as hard as we can.”