Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Allec Rodriguez wears No. 4 for the Wolverines. But he’s really 004.
Rodriguez, the secret-agent senior for Bayfield High School, slipped into a perfect disguise in Saturday’s Class 2A state quarterfinal football game against Faith Christian.
The starting slotback assumed a new identity as the quarterback in Bayfield’s triple-option offense, leading the Wolverines to a hard-hitting and tense 18-13 playoff win over the Eagles.
“This senior group, this whole Wolverine group is a really strong unit,” Bayfield head coach Gary Heide said. “When they saw Allec in at quarterback, it didn’t change a beat for our team.”
Rodriguez, a starting slotback, took over at quarterback late in the first quarter when starter Matthew Knickerbocker fell ill after scoring the Wolverines’ first touchdown – a 5-yard keeper that tied the score 6-6.
“The players knew we weren’t in trouble; they knew Allec could get the job done,” Heide said after the 11-0 Wolverines held off the Eagles in the second half.
No. 3 Bayfield advanced to the state semifinals next week against Platte Valley (9-2) in Kersey, just east of Greeley. Platte Valley, the No. 7 seed, upset No. 2 Eaton 25-18 on Saturday.
“Allec’s been a leader all season. The team rallied around him,” Heide said. “They know that whatever position he’s at, the team can depend on him.”
After Colton McMenimen intercepted a Faith Christian pass and returned it 30 yards to the Eagles’ 23-yard line, Rodriguez led his first scoring drive of the game.
On third down and 4, Rodriguez faked to TJ Pazell up the middle, then pitched to Drake Rhodes, who skirted the right side untouched for a 17-yard touchdown run to give the Wolverines a 12-6 lead.
When the stout Bayfield defense held on the ensuring series, Rodriguez and the BHS offense took over at its own 17 with 6 minutes, 59 seconds to play in the first half.
The Wolverines steadily moved down the slick field, pushing aside the Eagles like the fleet of tractors pushed aside the 3 inches of pregame snow at Wolverine Country Stadium.
Sixteen plays, 83 yards and 6½ minutes later, Rodriguez rolled right and drilled a pass low into the back of the end zone where McMenimen made a sliding catch for an 18-6 Bayfield lead with 24 seconds to play in the second quarter.
“That drive, you know, we were just trying to get some first downs and use some time,” Heide said. “But then, we kept moving and moving.”
Rodriguez connected with McMenimen on a 28-yard completion on third down. Later, on fourth down, Pazell bulled 5 tough yards for another first down.
A fourth-down pass-interference call in the end zone drawn by Clay Crawford kept alive the Wolverines’ most time-consuming drive of the year.
The cold weather, biting wind and wet field combined to torment both teams in the second half. The Wolverines lost two more fumbles, as did the Eagles.
After stalling near midfield, the Wolverines went into punt formation, facing north. The brutal west wind immediately shifted, coming out of the north, forcing a feeble 18-yard punt.
Faith Christian marched 53 yards in five plays with TJ Hasz scoring his second touchdown on a 27-yard counter play out of the Eagles’ option-read shotgun offense.
When Stefan Knoerr kicked the extra point, the Eagles pulled within 18-13 with 11:21 to play.
The chilled Bayfield fans got even colder when an option pitch went awry on the next series, and Jonas Spitzer recovered for Faith Christian at midfield.
But just as it did last week in a playoff win over Trinidad, the Bayfield defense came up with a decisive fumble recovery in the closing minutes.
Pazell and his defensive mates, pushed into the shadow of their own goal, knocked the football free, and Pazell recovered at the BHS 17 with 6:49 to play.
Two minutes later, Faith Christian started another drive at midfield.
But on fourth-and-5, Ian Sandrey and Zane Westbrook hauled down Faith Christian’s Tyler Deven short of the first down, allowing the Wolverines to run out the clock.
“That counter (play) coming back, I read it,” Sandrey said of the key stop. “I saw it all the way. We worked on it all week in practice.”
Sandrey said the Bayfield defense knew it had to lift each other’s spirits and help each other out with the game on the line.
“We knew we had to fight hard,” said Westbrook, a 6-3, 275-pound sophomore who disrupted the Eagles’ offense all afternoon. “They were big ... we knew we had to keep our pad levels down,” said Westbrook, son of Kathy and Richard Westbrook.
Pazell, who rushed for 44 yards on 15 carries, said the Wolverines gave it everything they had against Faith Christian.
“We responded to adversity like champions do,” said Pazell, son of David and Stacy Pazell.
“Big-time players like (Allec) do big-time things when they are needed,” Pazell said.
Rodriguez, the erstwhile slotback turned quarterback, led the Wolverines with 53 yards rushing on 14 carries. He also completed 3 of 6 passes for 46 yards and one touchdown.
“I had played quarterback last summer; I played it quite a bit,” Rodriguez said.
Plus, he said, he had taken a few snaps at quarterback during the season.
“I ... just had to do the job,” said Rodriguez, who also played quarterback growing up in Ulysses, Kan., before moving to Bayfield 2½ years ago.
The game could not have started any worse for the Wolverines: Bayfield fumbled on its first offensive play, with big Miles Finch, 6-5 and 215, recovering for Faith Christian; the Eagles promptly drove 22 yards in five plays for Hasz’s first touchdown and a 6-0 Faith Christian lead.
Then it got worse.
Knoerr, the Faith Christian kicker, blasted a low, line-drive kickoff that caromed off a Wolverine and bounced right back into Knoerr’s hands.
That made two touches for Bayfield and two fumbles lost. The Wolverines would fumble six times total, losing four.
But they also forced three fumbles as they advanced to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year.
BHS, state runner-up last year, is 23-1 over the last two seasons, and its quest for the school’s second state football championship will continue next Saturday at Platte Valley.