Two byes in three weeks in the middle of the season might be tricky for many teams, but the defending champion Bayfield Wolverines welcomed the time off. Now, they’re eager for the final home game of the regular season against a Montezuma-Cortez Panthers team eager for consecutive upsets.
Bayfield High School (4-1, 1-0 2A Intermountain League) will welcome Montezuma-Cortez (3-3, 1-1 IML) at 7 p.m. Friday inside Wolverine Country Stadium, where BHS has won a school record 22 consecutive games. It will be only the second game in the last four weeks for the Wolverines, as Gunnison’s decision to eliminate varsity football in 2018 presented a hole in the BHS schedule last week.
“It’s a little bit of an uncomfortable feeling to play a couple of games in a four-week span,” BHS head coach Gary Heide said. “The first bye, we needed that. This one, dog gonnit, we were on a roll getting into league season. We made the best of it, and hopefully some players who were nicked up are close to 100 percent.”
One of the players who enjoyed the extra week off was senior running back and linebacker David Hawkins, who sees as much action as any Wolverine.
“I felt it was very needed,” Hawkins said. “Coach Heide put a little extra emphasis on studying away from practice, and we were able to work on running plays and being more efficient. We didn’t have to hit each other much, and it definitely helped.”
The Wolverines remained the fourth-ranked team in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A coaches poll behind a trio of 6-0 teams in La Junta, Platte Valley and Rifle, respectively. Behind BHS are three more 6-0 teams in Resurrection Christian, Basalt and Salida, with Salida a league opponent who the Wolverines will visit the final week of the regular season. BHS is No. 2 in the CHSAA RPI rankings, which determine playoff seeding. The Wolverines have played the second strongest strength of schedule in Class 2A so far.
To set up a league championship game against the Spartans, the Wolverines first must take care of a Montezuma-Cortez team that stunned Alamosa on the road last week in a 20-14 win.
“They are vastly improved,” Heide said of the Panthers. “Coach Scott Conklin does a fantastic job, and we saw that at seven-on-seven work this summer a few times when the teams got together in Durango. They have really good athletes, and we know they have a very good quarterback. He’s one year older than what we saw last year, and that always bodes well. We have to be ready to go. We aren’t taking them lightly.”
Montezuma-Cortez senior quarterback Ike Dennison has completed 64 percent of his passes this year. He has thrown for 908 yards and 12 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Last week at Alamosa, he was 14-of-22 passing for 191 yards and two touchdowns, with 84 yards and a touchdown to Vinny Conklin, who also ran for 56 yards in the win. The Panthers have relied on the passing game for yards all year with only 583 yards coming via the run with four rushing touchdowns. Jacob Schuster is the team’s leading rusher with an average of 30 yards per game, while Vinny Conklin is close behind at 29 yards.
Wide receiver Cordell Baer will have the attention of the Bayfield defense. The Montezuma-Cortez senior has 596 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 33 receptions this season. Vinny Conklin also has six receiving touchdowns on a team-high 34 receptions for 328 yards.
Bayfield will counter with senior quarterback Hayden Farmer, who has completed 41.6 percent of his passes for 670 yards and five touchdowns to six interceptions this season.
Hawkins has his sights on a 1,000-yard rushing season. He has 577 yards and five touchdowns on the ground this year with an average of 115 yards per game and 6.1 yards per carry. Speedy junior Dylan Hilliker has totaled 293 rushing yards and another four touchdowns on only 27 carries, and senior Keyon Prior provides another change of pace with 239 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries.
Prior also has led the BHS receivers with 247 yards and two touchdowns on 14 receptions, while James Mottin provides some big-play potential with two touchdowns and 125 yards on only six receptions. Hilliker also has 103 receiving yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
Hawkins has led the BHS defense with 51 total tackles, including five for a loss and two sacks. Isaac Lorenzen has a team-high eight sacks from the nose guard position, and he will look to disrupt Dennison and the Panthers’ passing attack.
The Wolverines will celebrate 19 seniors in their final guaranteed home game of the season and the final Friday night home game of the year, as the Wolverines are likely to play all of their playoff games on Saturday afternoons.
“It certainly makes you take a deep breath and realize that time goes fast,” Heide said. “Now it’s time to make the best of it. Our driving force is to win some games coming up so we can get home again in the playoffs. Either way, it’s our last Friday night game here. We understand that and want to take it in and really enjoy it.”
Hawkins said he won’t have to say much to his fellow seniors before Friday’s game. They know what is on the line each week the rest of the regular season.
“We won’t get this opportunity to play at home on a Friday night with our community ever again,” he said. “We’ve been playing with each other for so long. We’re fired up to do it again. It’ll be cold, but we know our fans will be there for us.
“To get to the playoffs, we have to win this game. Everyone knows what the deal is. We know what we have to do: win this game.”