JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
When winless Gunnison scored on the first offensive play of the game, the visiting Cowboys envisioned a dreamy upset of No. 3-ranked Bayfield.
But that’s when the unbeaten Bayfield High School football team went on a vision quest of its own, scoring 51 unanswered points in the first half en route to a final 58-14 homecoming victory Friday night at Wolverine Country Stadium.
The Cowboys hushed the Bayfield homecoming crowd on the first snap from scrimmage when Brady Wilson connected with Nick Romano on a 76-yard halfback pass for a touchdown against the aggressive BHS defense.
One 30-yard kickoff return by Drake Rhodes and three offensive plays later, the Wolverines produced the tying touchdown in what would be a 30-point first-quarter scoring outburst.
Once the homecoming silence was broken, senior TJ Pazell scored from 19 yards out for the first of his three touchdowns, and the Bayfield cheers didn’t stop.
The Wolverines led 51-7 at halftime with the running-clock mercy rule (40-point difference) in effect.
“The guys up front made it possible,” said sophomore quarterback Matt Knickerbocker, who also scored three touchdowns Friday night.
“They’re what made us gain all those yards,” said Knickerbocker, who scored the first two times he carried the football.
His first touchdown, on a 10-yard quarterback keeper, came at the end of a typical 70-yard drive that needed only five plays.
Knickerbocker’s second touchdown came on a 25-yard option keeper at the end of a five-play, 66-yard Bayfield scoring drive.
His final touchdown capped a 71-yard, four-play drive.
Knickerbocker faked the fullback dive to homecoming king Michael Hawkins, who attracted more Cowboys than a rodeo.
With the Gunnison defense swarming Hawkins, Knickerbocker cut through the distracted secondary and ran 58 yards for his third touchdown of the game.
“We were studying ... their defense all week,” said Knickerbocker, son of Kirk and Marie Knickerbocker. He carried five times Friday night for 111 yards and three touchdowns – in the first half.
He also completed both passes he threw for 30 yards.
“For our seniors, our leaders here, we were not ... going to lose,” he said after the Wolverines improved to 7-0 overall, 5-0 in the Western League.
The Wolverines added to their first-quarter point total when senior Allec Rodriguez returned a punt 72 yards to set up a short scoring run by Pazell.
Rodriguez opened the second half with a scintillating 97-yard kickoff return for what would be Bayfield’s final touchdown.
“I give all the credit to my blockers,” Rodriguez said. “I was running down the field ... Anthony Chamblee was knocking people down; everybody was knocking people down.”
He said his patience behind the blocking was the key to the two kick returns that totaled 169 yards.
“I learned from last year that you have to be patient,” Rodriguez said. “Last year, I would get out there with speed, speed, speed. But I would get run down because I didn’t have any blockers.”
Not the case Friday night.
“(Friday night), I just waited and waited ... tried to be patient. Then I took it to the house.”
Rodriguez, son of CJ and Ramona Nava and Johnny Rodriguez, also gained 54 yards rushing on five carries against the Cowboys.
Chamblee added a 39-yard run from scrimmage as the Wolverines totaled 320 rushing yards – almost all in the first half.
The Wolverines did not punt.
“This was a great win for our seniors,” Bayfield head coach Gary Heide said after the final regular-season home game of the season at Wolverine Country Stadium.
“I was really proud of the guys ... we wanted to put a stamp on this game,” he said.
Heide said the coaching staff did an excellent job preparing the Wolverines for their seventh consecutive victory.
“And it’s great to see our quarterback do this ... he’s a real triple threat now,” Heide said of Knickerbocker.
“Matt’s a fine athlete. We knew he was a fine athlete. He’s a great baseball player. ... He started as a freshman,” the BHS football coach said.
“His intelligence ... his reads are outstanding. Very good decision-making,” Heide said.
Heide and the Wolverines, ranked No. 3 in Class 2A by The Denver Post, will travel to Olathe for a Western League game next Friday night.
The Wolverines will close the regular season Oct. 20 at Pagosa Springs.