Throughout the week leading up to its state quarterfinals matchup against Soroco on Saturday, the Mancos High School football team focused on finding a way to contain star running back Jace Logan.
Bluejays head coaches Adam Priestley and Josh Gardner preached the importance of containment. Linebackers Kaleb Hargraves, Chance Morgan Garcia and the rest of the Mancos defense practiced wrapping up and tackling low.
By the time Mancos players sprinted onto their home field on game day, they oozed with confidence and the belief that they would be able to contain the Rams’ star junior and earn their second consecutive playoff victory.
Logan had other ideas.
After a slow start to the first quarter, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound junior exploded for 430 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.
At times during the fourth quarter, stunned Mancos players could do little but watch as Logan bowled over linemen, juked past linebackers and left stunned cornerbacks and safeties in his wake.
“I saw a lot of fight from our team, but it’s hard to bring down (Logan),” Gardner said. “He’s a good kid, and he had a couple of breakout plays. That’s a good team that we just played. They’re tough.”
Throughout the first 11 minutes of the contest, it appeared as if the Bluejays and Rams would grind through an evenly matched slugfest as both offenses moved the ball, but were unable to score.
Mancos defenders consistently fought through blocks and punished Logan with hard hits, which, according to the junior, were some of the most punishing shots that he had taken all year.
“Coming out that first drive, they hit really hard, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be a long day,’” Logan said. “We just kept pounding them as a team, and we stuck with it, and that eventually opened up the game for me.”
The first opening to which Logan was undoubtedly referring came with his team pinned deep in its own territory after a stellar kick by Mancos was downed at the Socoro 1-yard line with just under a minute left in the first quarter.
Seemingly hoping to gain a few yards and avoid a safety, Soroco quarterback Truman Anarella handed the ball to Logan off-right guard, and before fans could blink, the junior angled through a small hole and raced untouched down the right sideline for a score.
“I was a little upset because (Mancos) had a nice punt to the 1-yard line,” Logan said. “We got good blocks up front, and our fullback got a good block at the secondary level. I just thought, ‘Keep running.’”
After Mancos turned the ball over after a botched exchange between center Casey Orange and quarterback Kaleb Hargraves, Logan struck two plays later when he took a handoff off-left guard, made a nifty jump cut to his right, and raced 65 yards down the right sideline for the score.
Trailing 12-0 with 8:55 left in the second quarter, Mancos nearly found a spark on the ensuing kickoff when Anthony Medina took the ball at his own 1-yard line and followed his blockers into a crease along the right sideline and raced for what appeared to be touchdown.
Senior Peyton Suazo was flagged for a block in the back, however, which brought Mancos back to its own 30-yard line, negated the long score and quieted several hundred screaming Bluejays fans.
“I felt like it was a fair call,” said Gardner, when asked about the penalty. “Our boys were just going hard, and sometimes when you’re trying to make a play, those things happen. It’s unfortunate because that would have been the spark that we needed for the game, but those things happen.”
After Logan scored his third touchdown of the first half on a fake punt that featured an impressive juke near the right sideline and a stiff arm of a helpless defender, Mancos headed to the locker room trailing 20-0.
Hoping to turn things around in the second half, the Mancos defense shut down Soroco on its opening possession and brought home fans to their feet later in the quarter when Suazo intercepted Anarella at the Mancos 30-yard line.
The Bluejays offense struggled to generate large gains on ensuing offensive possessions however, as Hargraves narrowly missed open receivers on several occasions.
“We didn’t connect on some of our passing plays,” Gardner said. “It makes it hard when we’re a little bit one-dimensional.”
Sensing that a win was in reach, Soroco continually handed the ball to Logan throughout the third and fourth quarters as the junior began to pound through tired defenders.
A 23-yard scoring run by Logan put the Rams ahead 26-0 with 10:28 in the fourth quarter, and a 59-yard touchdown run around the left side increased Soroco’s lead to 32-0 with 8:23 left. Logan added one final touchdown on a 33-yard run, which, after a successful 2-point conversion, put the Rams ahead, 40-0.
“We’re at this point in the season where every game could be our last shot,” said Logan. “We’re just coming in focused and having a lot of fun and playing with all that we’ve got because we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Soroco improved to 8-3 on the season with the win and will play in next week’s state semifinals. Logan ran for 430 of the team’s 473 yards, averaging 14.8 yards per carry. He scored 38 of the team’s 40 points, including a two-point conversion. Logan also had 20 of the team’s 61 tackles, including 15 solo tackles. Seniors Sky Carlson added 14 tackles; Jonah Jones, 10. Carlson also posted two sacks and recovered a fumble.
Mancos concluded one of its most successful seasons in school history with an 8-3 record overall. The team does not provide statistics.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of hard workers,” Gardner said. “Our thing that we did this year is that we played together as a team. We didn’t have a lot of single standout players, but we had a lot of great leaders, and I think that leadership will filter down to our younger guys. And I expect us to have the same leadership and play as a team next year.”