Durango hasn’t faced Montezuma-Cortez in a varsity high school football game since Nov. 1, 2013. That will change Friday night, though the game won’t officially count toward either team’s standings at the end of the season,
DHS will host the Panthers of Cortez at 7 p.m. Friday in a Colorado High School Activities Association “Foundation Game.” Every sports program is allowed to host one CHSAA Foundation Game per year, and football teams can host one such game in lieu of an official scrimmage.
But Friday night’s game will be more official than a scrimmage. There will be a scoreboard and referees. The only difference from a real game is no contact is allowed on kicking plays.
With only one week until both teams kick off the regular season, the soft opener is a chance to fine-tune skills and work out some kinks, much like a preseason game in the NFL.
“We are so tired of hitting each other. It will be good to hit a different color jersey and be able to go full-go against somebody else,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “These guys have been playing each other in all the youth leagues, and they know who they are facing off against. It’s always good to have a little rivalry and play a game against a school that is close to us.”
Montezuma-Cortez first-year head coach Jarrett Watkins is also eager to see his young team get back on the field a week before it will host New Mexico’s Kirtland Central for the Panthers’ season opener.
“It’s extremely valuable,” he said. “To get a game-time situation and actually have a game, it’s a good test. It lets me see how kids react when it comes to contact.”
In the case of Class 3A Durango, the cost to host a Foundation Game is $150 paid to the CHSAA Foundation. The money from that fund is used for projects such as sport behavior programs, coaching education initiatives, sports medicine advisory videos and support for student leadership, CHSAA Associate Commissioner and former DHS athletic director Adam Bright said.
While the school must pay the small fee to host the game, it may keep the gate revenue generated from ticket sales. A traditional scrimmage cannot charge a gate fee. In the case of DHS, that is more important than ever this year, as the Demons will host only four home games during the regular season, and the school has struggled to generate enough funds to pay off its loan for the stadium renovation project.
“Any opportunity we had to get another home game, we were going to take it,” Vogt said.
While the rivalry between Cortez and Durango has cooled on the football field in recent years, it still is prominent for both schools across all other sports. The players at each school also grow up playing each other in the Young America Football League through elementary school and continue to face each other in middle school.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said DHS senior Fynn Hyson. “I haven’t played those guys in a long time. I don’t know what to expect from them, but it will definitely be fun.”
The Demons will enter the season hopeful for a deep Class 3A state playoff run coming off a 6-5 season and first-round playoff exit a year ago. With some new players at skill positions, junior quarterback Jordan Woolverton is excited for a chance to get the team together before next week’s game against Pagosa Springs and a huge Week 2 matchup with Palisade.
“To get an extra game under our belt to get us going, we are going to see what we need to work on,” Woolverton said. “It’s a learning experience going into Pagosa and Palisade, and that is going to help us a lot.”
The Panthers finished last season 4-6 overall and gave defending state champion Bayfield a fight in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs in a 19-14 loss. It was Cortez’s first state playoff appearance since 2014.
Though the game won’t count, both schools see the Foundation Game as a positive way to get both communities together under the bright lights for a Friday night of football. Durango plans to play its starters in the first half and work in younger players in the second half. Both teams will approach the game seriously with the regular-season kickoff only a week away.
Watkins said the prospect of Cortez hosting the game next season has not yet been discussed, but he would like the Foundation Game to continue going forward.
“The fact Durango is not in our conference, it’s good to get a chance to build a relationship with them and keep it up amongst our staffs,” Watkins said. “It’s good for us and them to keep that relationship up through the summer with seven-on-sevens in the summer. It’s a perfect situation for us to play them.”