A win gets Pueblo East in the state playoffs. A win for Durango gets the Demons a first-round home playoff game.
That’s what is at stake when the Eagles meet Durango High School in a key Class 3A showdown during the final week of the high school football season. The top 16 teams will make the playoffs. The Pueblo East Eagles need a win to make that field, as they currently sit No. 15 in the RPI rankings and 17th in the CHSAANow.com coaches poll. The seventh-ranked Demons are on the edge of being a team that will host in the first round versus going on the road, as they also sit seventh in RPI.
This will be Durango’s first game on its home field since an Oct. 18 homecoming romp of Pueblo Central. It is only the Demons’ second home game since a Week 2 matchup with Palisade back on Sept. 6.
“We want to have a home playoff game this year to reward our fans for following us even though we only had four home games,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “It’s going to depend on us getting a win and how the other teams that we have played do. We need everyone we have already played to also do well.”
More than that, the Demons (6-3, 3-1 SCL) will look to finally beat the Eagles after three consecutive losses since the Demons joined the 3A South Central League. It is Durango’s final year in the Pueblo-based league before a move to a Colorado Springs league next season, and the Demons don’t want to exit without beating Pueblo East (4-5, 3-1 SCL) once.
“We want it very bad,” said DHS junior quarterback Jordan Woolverton. “They’ve beat us three years straight now. It will be really nice if we can take them at our place and beat them this year and hopefully clinch a first-round playoff game at home. We’ve wanted it all season, and we are excited for his opportunity.”
Woolverton will look to finish off a brilliant junior season in which he has nearly 2,200 yards of total offense. He has passed for 1,474 yards and 22 touchdowns to only one interception and has completed 72.5% of his passes. He also has rushed for a team-high 12 touchdowns to go with 721 yards on 65 carries. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in four games this year.
The Demons’ offense has had plenty of balance thanks to the rushing of Everett Howland. The senior running back is up to 1,103 rushing yards and 10 TDs on a modest 95 carries this season compared to many other workhorse running backs around the state.
Woolverton has spread the ball around well, with touchdown passes to five different players this season, including nine to Ben Finneseth and seven to Gage Mestas. He has completed passes to nine different targets this year.
Finneseth has 639 yards on 35 receptions, while Mestas has 469 yards on 25 receptions. Howland is a threat to catch passes out of the backfield, too, as he has 16 grabs for 205 yards and two more scores this year.
All of the production has been credited to a massive offensive line that has dominated opponents the past six weeks. That has helped the Demons average 40 points per game.
“We will go as far as our offensive line takes us,” Vogt said. “We will have a few new wrinkles this week that nobody has seen, and that could be really good for us. Pueblo East won’t be prepared for it.”
Durango’s defense has forced 11 turnovers this year and sacked opposing quarterbacks 16 times. Woolverton and Ean Goodwin lead the secondary with two interceptions each. Howland is second on the team in tackles with 46, one behind Ford Pitts, while Howland leads the defense with five sacks.
The Demons defense will have an interesting task to complete Friday. The Eagles have used two quarterbacks this season and found recent success with Jaxson Herring, who is normally a wide receiver, running the ball.
But the Eagles could also turn to Jack Helzer behind center. He has missed the team’s previous two games but has passed for more than 1,000 yards this season. He has struggled with interceptions at times.
Noah Rivera and Orly Mondragon are also talented runners the Demons will have to keep an eye on.
Vogt anticipates seeing Herring at quarterback unless the Demons are able to get an early lead.
“We are preparing our guys for both,” Vogt said. “They have gone on a hot streak with the running kid. He’s been very dynamic on offense running the ball. It’s about containing him and taking away running lanes.
“If we jump out on them, maybe they’ll bring in the passer to get back in the game and move (Herring) back to receiver where he’s more at home. But they’ve done so well with (Herring) at quarterback that I’m expecting him to start.”
The Demons plan to be ready for anything and everything from the Eagles, from trick plays to fakes on special teams. In a must-win game to end the regular season, all bets are off.
“We know they are going to bring everything they have got and won’t hold anything back,” Vogt said. “We will be dialed in to make sure we are ready for anything.”