It’s been a week of bad news for the Durango Demons football team. An improbable win Saturday could turn it all around.
Durango High School was a bit stunned to receive the No. 14 seed in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A State Football Playoffs. After 10 grueling games in 11 weeks during the regular season, the Demons (6-4) also couldn’t have asked for a more difficult matchup in the opening round than the No. 3 Erie Tigers (10-0).
A win last week at Pueblo East could’ve sent the Durango Demons to as high as a No. 2 or 3 seed. A loss to Pueblo East gave the Eagles the 3A South Central League championship and sent the Demons to third place in the league.
Despite the eighth-best RPI ranking in the state and second-ranked strength of schedule, the Demons had to settle for the 14 seed and a 358-mile bus ride to Erie.
What was worse were the injuries the Demons piled up along the way, especially last week in the loss at Pueblo East. Durango lost junior linebacker and backup running back Everett Howland for the season with a dislocated elbow. The team also will be without wide receivers Solomon Gabel and Breyton Jackson this week and a total of six offensive starters.
“It’s tough,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “We practiced today with pads instead of hitting each other because we didn’t want to get anyone else hurt. It’s kind of ridiculous. But that’s why it’s called a football team. It’s the next man up mentality, and the other guys have to be ready for the next opportunity.”
Even Durango’s players who will play have played through injury. Lineman Colby Basye went to the hospital but was cleared Thursday to play. Star senior Dawson Marcum has played through injuries for more than a month and has been limited in practice, and even sophomore quarterback Jordan Woolverton has nursed an injury for a few weeks.
Still, the Demons will give it all they’ve got against an Erie team that beat the Demons 35-28 in the quarterfinals last year in Durango before going on to finish as the state runner-up to Palmer Ridge.
The Erie Tigers are led by the state’s top running back in senior Noah Roper. The 6-foot, 195-pound senior has a Division I offer from Air Force along with top Division II offers from Colorado School of Mines and CSU-Pueblo. He has rushed for 1,846 yards and 32 touchdowns on 177 carries. He has averaged 10.4 yards per carry and 184.6 yards per game.
Last year against Durango, Roper ran wild for 209 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries.
“He’s the best running back in the state for a reason,” Vogt said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. Even last year, we wrapped him up, had him in our sights. He’s gonna spin off things, jump over people. He’s just an amazing athlete, and it’s a fun challenge for us because we love stopping the run.”
He also is a threat to throw the ball, as he’s completed 4-of-5 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Last year, Durango saw first-hand his throwing ability, as he completed one pass for 56 yards.
“They’ve got some toss passes in there with him and the Tebow jump pass with him, as well,” Vogt said.”We’ve practiced that stuff this week. It’s about us reading our keys and making a quick decision if it’s a run or pass with him.”
Durango will rely on linebackers Gus Kidd, Thomas Barnes, Matt Miller and Foster Dowling to collectively replace Howland
Durango’s offense, which was held completely in check in last week’s loss, will look to make the plays to keep up with Roper and the Tigers. Woolverton has thrown for 1,560 yards, 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season, while he has completed more than 70 percent of his passes. Marcum has rushed for 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns and has averaged 113.1 yards per game and 7.9 per carry.
Woolverton also has run the ball effectively for 227 yards and five touchdowns.
Last year against Erie, Woolverton went 18-of-25 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns, while Marcum rushed 12 times for 67 yards and a touchdown.
With several players injured, sophomore receiver Gage Mestas and senior Kiernan McInnis will play a big role Saturday, while senior receiver Alex Hise, who scored a touchdown against Erie last year, will again play through injury with 467 yards and four touchdowns on 25 catches under his belt this season.
Durango’s offensive line has struggled at times this season, and Vogt and his coaching staff made a few changes to it this week.
“The new offensive line is meshing together well this week,” he said. “I’m excited to see the new pieces come together. As a team, you always gotta be on your toes and can’t get satisfied being a starter and having that position. It’s good we have enough players to push each other to be our best.”
Vogt said the key to being in the game will be to get defensive stops early and to make Erie drive the length of the field to score touchdowns without giving up a big play.
“Offensively, we have to win a lot of one-on-one battles,” Vogt said. “They play a lot of man coverage. We have a great game plan in, and it comes down to our offensive line giving protection and the O-line being able to open some holes for Dawson.”