One game will kick off the high school football season in La Plata County. Three were scheduled, one remains.
Class 2A No. 1 Delta will meet No. 12 Bayfield at 3 p.m. Saturday at Wolverine Country Stadium in Bayfield. It comes during a weekend in which Week 1 games for Durango High and Ignacio High were canceled. It’s part of a difficult storyline for a high school season once postponed until spring, then brought back for fall and now once again in jeopardy because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For a couple of hours Saturday afternoon, Bayfield is ready to feel some slight sense of normalcy on its beloved football field where so many memories have been made in the last decade.
“When we start to play, we will forget all about all of the restrictions we’ve had all year and just go out and play and have fun,” BHS head coach Gary Heide said. “We really look forward to it. We will realize how much we love playing this game.”
Restoring the tradition of the Wolverines is the goal in 2020. Last season, BHS went 4-5 overall and was second in the 2A Intermountain League with a 3-1 league record. BHS saw its 23-game league winning streak snapped along with a 24-game home winning streak. It added up to BHS missing the state playoffs for the first time since 2013
“It’s definitely one thing that we, as seniors, we want to establish our home-field advantage again,” said BHS running back and safety Cade Carlson. “Last year, winning only one game at home, it was painful after all the years before that we never lost a game at home. So, yeah, this year we plan to protect our home turf much better.”
As always, the Bayfield goal will be to make the state playoffs. But that will be more difficult in a season in which only eight teams will make the bracket and league champions are not guaranteed a spot. With preseason No. 4 Lamar, No. 9 La Junta and No. 10 Alamosa all in the Southwest League, the Wolverines are in one of the toughest leagues in all of Class 2A.
Plus, Bayfield’s lone non-league game Saturday is against preseason No. 1 Delta, which earned seven of 15 first-place votes in the CHSAA poll.
“It’s a big challenge for us, but I think it adds excitement to it,” Heide said of facing Delta. “We can accomplish a lot of things right off the bat. If we play really well and come out with a victory, it will set the tone for the year and reinstate Bayfield football. We are hoping to get out there and play a great game and come out on a winning end. The guys are working hard and ready to go.”
A year ago, Delta went 11-2 overall and reached the state title game, a 27-19 loss to Sterling. The Panthers returned quarterback Nolan Bynum, who is now a senior. A year ago, he passed for 2,556 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for 329 yards and nine more scores.
“We are excited for the opportunity,” Carlson said. “It’s not every day you get to play against the No. 1 team and have that opportunity. I do respect their quarterback. I hear he’s great. But, also, last year’s Aspen’s quarterback was great, and we beat Aspen. Anything is possible.”
BHS returned quarterback Isaac Ross, who is now a junior. He passed for 686 yards and seven touchdowns last year with six interceptions. He completed only 43.1% of his passes, but his teammates have been impressed with his passing in practice this year.
“I see people who started last year, and they were good but you could see some struggles,” said BHS senior receiver Crosby Edwards, who led BHS with 14 catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns last season. “This year, people have improved so much. Everyone from quarterback with Isaac throwing better balls and throwing a lot farther to our running backs running harder. Last year, it was the first time starting for a lot of guys. We look a lot better and cleaner this year.”
Carlson returns at strong safety to lead the BHS defense, which lost its top-four tacklers from a year ago. Carlson is excited to be behind Texas transfer Nick Johnson at linebacker. The defense is once again coached by coordinator Mike Wnorowski, who had taken a step back the previous two years for health reasons after leading a historic defense during Bayfield’s 2017 state title campaign.
“We know coach has had some problems with his health, and we all love him so much,” Edwards said. “He’s putting his health on the line to coach football for us. He’s a great guy.”
Though Bayfield lost all-state lineman John Foutz to graduation, the players are excited about the big guys up front this year. It starts with Hunter Bayles and Noah Forsythe along with Kobe Prior.
“The line looks good. Those guys are angry and ready to play,” Carlson said.
BHS will hit the road Oct. 17 to play Lamar before an Oct. 23 home game with Pagosa Springs. An Oct. 30 trip to Manitou Springs is now in jeopardy, as the Mustangs have had a COVID-19 quarantine for two weeks with a school board expected to vote on a possible cancellation of the team’s season as early as this weekend. BHS is slated to play Alamosa at home Nov. 6 before a huge season finale Nov. 14 at La Junta in a rematch of the 2017 state title game and 2016 state semifinal.
“We aren’t talking about it that much, but what we want to do right now is put Bayfield football back on the map after last season,” Edwards said. “We want to have a better season like we had in previous years where Bayfield goes out and dominates. Playing the No. 1 team in the state right off the bat, it’s a good measure for us for what we are trying to do this year to prove we’re still relevant in Colorado football.”