There was no stopping the Durango High School football team Friday night.
The 13th-seeded Demons rolled into Cañon City and dominated the No. 4 Tigers for a 49-21 victory in the first round of the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A State Football Playoffs to advance to the quarterfinals for the second time in the past three seasons.
Durango’s defense dominated the game and intercepted the Tigers three times. Gavin Mestas, Kade Engle and Max Hyson had picks.
The defense continually set up the offense with good field position, and the Demons took advantage with quick scoring drives.
“It was a testament to all the hard work we put in the weight room. We just played a lot more physical than them early,” DHS head coach David Vogt said of the Demons’ ability to control the line of scrimmage and win the field position battle.
Vogt said Durango’s defense put some hard hits on Cañon City running back Kadin Porter early in the game that seemed to take the standout running back out of rhythm.
Of Durango’s five touchdowns in the first half, no drive needed more than four plays to reach the end zone.
The Demons (8-3) fell behind early. During Cañon City’s second possession of the game, Porter broke a big run to get inside the Durango 15-yard line. Two plays later, Porter finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers (9-2) ahead 7-0 with 7 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Durango didn’t trail for long. On the Demons’ ensuing possession, junior running back Dawson Marcum broke a 53-yard run. Marcum fumbled at the end of the play, but Mestas recovered the ball at the Cañon City 17-yard line. The next play ended in the end zone, as freshman quarterback found fellow freshman Gage Mestas for a 17-yard TD pass. It was the first of three TD passes for Woolverton.
Durango’s defense held the Tigers to a three-and-out on their next possession and found the end zone after four plays when Marcum ran 10-yards for a TD that gave the Demons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The defense kept stuffing the Tigers while the offense took off.
After two big runs from senior Max Hyson to get down to the Cañon City 11-yard line, Marcum made a run but fumbled again. This time, Breyton Jackson scooped it up at the 6-yard line and ran it into the end zone in the opening minutes of the second quarter.
Cañon City’s next possession ended with a Gavin Mestas interception, and two plays later Woolverton hit Jackson for a 26-yard TD pass that pushed the Demons’ lead to 28-7 with 1:23 left before halftime.
But the Demons weren’t done yet.
After stopping the Tigers on third down, Durango got the ball back near midfield with time winding down in the half.
With time for one more play, the Demons took a shot at the end zone. Woolverton threw into the end zone and the ball fell to Gavin Mestas, who had been knocked down and was laying on his back. The ball landed on Mestas’ chest, and he held onto it for the TD that sent the game to halftime with the Demons leading 35-7.
“The feeling of catching that was unreal,” Mestas said of the TD snag in a text message. “The offensive line did a great job holding their blocks giving Jordan enough time to throw a beautiful pass to me. I just did my job catching the ball and everybody did a great job executing as a unit.”
Durango was back in the end zone a few minutes into the third quarter when Marcum returned a punt 55 yards for a score that extended the lead to 42-7 with 7:38 to go in the third.
Cañon City scored on a touchdown pass from Hanenberg to Cole Smith midway through the third to make it 42-14.
DHS senior Rashaad Liggins added the final score in the closing seconds of the game when he broke a 27-yard touchdown run.
Durango will host No. 5 Erie (9-2) in the second round next week.
Erie scored a touchdown and converted a 2-point conversion with 52 seconds remaining in its game against No. 12 Pueblo East to win 22-21.
“I think the experience will be unforgettable for all of us,” Mestas said of hosting a playoff game. “This is the first time in a long time Durango football has hosted a second round playoff game.”