Montezuma-Cortez head football coach Dave Wagner didn’t sleep very much on the bus ride home from Aspen on Friday.
It’s not surprising, considering all he had to worry about.
And the team’s 29-12 loss in their season opener against Aspen was just the beginning.
Injuries may have been a bigger concern.
Freshman Zeke Vargas and junior Zach McDonald did not travel with the team to Aspen because of knee and leg injuries, senior Austin Bayles played through a high-ankle sprain, and senior Victor Perez played through a hand injury.
Then, in the first quarter of Friday’s game, senior Ryan Gurney broke his leg.
Gurney fractured his tibia and fibula returning a kickoff after Aspen’s first touchdown.
Wagner said that Gurney underwent surgery on Saturday to insert a rod, and that he was recovering nicely. He will most likely be in a cast for four to six weeks, but doctors expect that he will be fully recovered by January.
“It was hard,” Wagner said. “When you have an injury of that magnitude, one of your best players, in the first quarter of the first game, it opened up a lot of those freshman’s eyes.”
However, the Panthers responded by putting together a 66-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a Cordell Ridings’ one-yard pass to junior Coby Baer, to cut Aspen’s lead to 8-6.
After forcing an Aspen punt, the Panthers’ next drive ended in a turnover on downs. Then, the Skiers marched 62 yards to score, tacking on the two-point conversion to enter the half leading 16-6.
The two teams opened the second half by trading turnovers, but late in the third quarter, the Panthers were able to string plays together.
The junior backfield of Baer, Elisha Vaquera and Tanner Desrosiers moved the chains by grinding it out on the ground, and Ridings was able to connect with senior Colton Reynolds through the air.
Ridings also ripped off chunks of yards by scrambling for first downs. After a Ridings carry inside the 5-yard-line, Vaquera punched it in for a touchdown to bring the Panthers within striking distance, trailing 16-12 in the fourth.
However, the Panthers offense stalled in the fourth, and Aspen running back Nik Morgan closed things out, scoring two of his three touchdowns in the final quarter.
Morgan rushed for 170 yards on the game, and after Aspen’s two fourth-quarter scores, the Skiers held M-CHS scoreless to end the game 29-12.
Wagner said that Gurney’s injury affected the direction of the game, throwing off the Panthers’ excitement and adrenaline. He also noted the team’s youth, mentioning that at times there were seven freshmen on defense and eight on offense.
But he didn’t use either as an excuse.
“It is what it is,” he said. “We just have hard work in front of us. Our defense did well, we did a great job. But offensively, we need a lot of work.”
The Panthers will attempt to right the ship this week with a home game against Miyamura, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m.