Quick scores to end the first half and to start the second sparked the Durango Demons and shocked the Pueblo Centennial Bulldogs.
With a little more than two minutes to play in the first half, the Durango High School football team used a big punt return from Gage Mestas to set Durango up for a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Jordan Woolverton to sophomore wide receiver Gage Mestas, and the Demons took a 14-8 lead into the locker room.
After an extended homecoming halftime, the ninth-ranked Demons (4-2, 1-0 3A South Central League) came out with fire in the third quarter, and Woolverton hit senior receiver Alex Hise on a 24-yard touchdown pass to make it a two-score game in a flash. The Demons then recovered an onside kick. Though they didn’t score on the drive, the Bulldogs (3-3, 0-1 SCL) never had as much bite the rest of the night, as Durango went on to a big 33-8 win Friday night at DHS.
“That was a lot of fun with an excited crowd, and we wanted to win for these seniors on their last homecoming,” Woolverton said.
Woolverton was on fire during his best game of the season. He completed 15-of-19 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Hise hauled in three passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
“We knew coming in he was a great quarterback,” Pueblo Centennial head coach Jeff Wilkerson said. “He stands in there well, has a good clock, and his left tackle (Carver Willis) did a good job. Hats off to them, they beat us. We just can’t make mistakes and miss tackles against a good team like them.”
DHS senior running back Dawson Marcum continued his march toward 1,000 rushing yards this season with another 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He had 110 rushing yards in the second half.
The DHS defense held the Bulldogs to 22 rushing yards in the second half after 92 in the first.
“We’re good at adjusting,” DHS senior linebacker Gus Kidd said. “We have some killer coaches up in that booth, and we made adjustments and fixed what needed to be fixed.”
Pueblo Centennial junior quarterback Devin Blue finished 5-of-19 passing for 92 yards. He was 1-of-7 at halftime, but the Bulldogs had to try to throw more in the second half after DHS made it a two-score game.
“We’ve improved a ton with our pass game,” Wilkerson said. “Devin Blue is doing a good job with it, but we obviously want to run the football, so it does throw us off our game a bit.”
The first half was highlighted by special teams and the play of Woolverton. He went 8-of-9 passing in the first half for 113 yards and a touchdown, including the go-ahead score with 2:09 to play in the half that put the Demons up 14-8.
Pueblo Centennial scored first on a 13-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown by Bubba Rivera. Blue added a 2-point conversion, and the Bulldogs led 8-0 with 1:19 to go in the first quarter.
Woolverton and the Demons answered right back with a seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive that ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Marcum, who also added a 2-point conversion to tie the game with 9:51 to play in the second quarter.
After two early fumbles that weren’t lost, the Bulldogs coughed up a ball that was recovered by Durango’s Savion Jones-Embry on the Pueblo Centennial 35-yard line.
“That put some fire under our butts and got us going,” Woolverton said of the fumble recovery.
One play later, Woolverton hit Alex Hise with a 31-yard completion to get to the 4-yard line. But Durango’s drive would stall, as a quarterback sneak by Woolverton into the end zone was called back by an illegal aiding of a runner penalty on the Demons’ running back for trying to push Woolverton across the goal line. Two holding calls, a sack and a botched handle of a snap later and the Demons would punt.
But Durango’s defense rose to the occasion and got the ball back to the Durango offense quickly after a pair of sacks from Gus Kidd and Everett Howland.
Mestas then returned a punt more than 50 yards to the Pueblo Centennial 9-yard line. Two plays later, Woolverton hit Mestas with a 6-yard touchdown pass. Woolverton missed the extra point, but DHS went into halftime with a 14-8 lead.
“It felt great to score and get a little redemption,” Mestas said. “On the return, I know my blockers are doing every part of it. I found the hole they opened. They got a (gunner) running down at me. I know I can juke him out and then trust my blocks and then try to get outside.”
Out of halftime, the Demons started on their own 41-yard line after another great kick return from Marcum, who nearly broke free for a touchdown. Woolverton would hit Hise for a big completion, and Hise spun out of a tackle and ran in for a 24-yard touchdown to give the Demons a big 20-8 lead.
DHS would try an onside kick, and it worked to perfection as Max Congdon came down with the ball. DHS wouldn’t score on the ensuing drive, and the Bulldogs drove down the field and threatened to make it a one-score game again. But a holding call on a fourth-down conversion backed the Bulldogs up, and they turned the ball over on downs on the DHS 32-yard line.
Moments later, Marcum broke a 65-yard touchdown run, as he lowered his shoulder and exploded through the line of scrimmage, through a linebacker and then sprinted to the end zone. The big run was a reward for Marcum, who had a 55-yard touchdown run called back the previous drive on a holding penalty.
“It felt good to get that one in,” Marcum said. “The boys were working their butts off, and we had lost some focus with some of the penalties, but they turned it around real well and opened up the holes.”
After the Durango defense forced a quick three-and-out, the Demons added one more score on a 1-yard touchdown run from Ben Finneseth that effectively put the game away.
Next week, Pueblo Centennial will face No. 8 Pueblo East (4-2, 1-0 SCL), which beat rival Pueblo South big Friday night. The Demons will travel for the first time since Aug. 30, a 20-3 loss against No. 4 Palisade. DHS will face Pueblo Central at 1 p.m. Oct. 13 in Pueblo.
“We gotta buckle down,” Kidd said. “The last time we traveled, we didn’t do so well. We gotta make sure we stay focused. We’re pretty good at coming out hard at home games, but we came out really soft last time we traveled to Palisade, so we just gotta have that same mentality of coming out hard.”