Jordan Woolverton was hurt the first play of the game for the Durango Demons. The star senior quarterback still led his team on three touchdown drives before he exited.
Behind the running of junior running back Nate Messier and a 14-yard touchdown run by Woolverton, the Durango High School football team opened up a 21-0 lead on Pueblo County on Saturday on the road. The Hornets would score on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal as time expired in the first half, but DHS still had a 21-7 lead at the break.
The decision was made at halftime to remove Woolverton from the game because of a shoulder injury. Star receiver Ben Finneseth would handle quarterback duties the rest of the game.
It didn’t slow the play of the second-ranked Demons in the big Class 3A South Central League clash, though. The Demons’ rushing attack would continue to plow through Pueblo County en route to a 49-21 victory against the previously unbeaten Hornets.
“I talked to the offensive line after I found out I was going to be playing QB and just explained to them I’m not Jordan,” Finneseth said. “That means they had to take that extra step and effort. That was totally on the line and the receivers for their blocking. They did amazing, and they all stepped it up at half, especially the boys up front.”
Though Durango (2-0, 1-0 SCL) won, the story was Woolverton. The all-state quarterback was on the sideline in the second half with his right arm in a sling and ice on his shoulder. He will get an X-ray when he returns to Durango on Saturday night. Pueblo County team doctors initially feared it could be a broken clavicle. Typical clavicle injuries take roughly six weeks to heal depending on severity.
The Demons hope the diagnosis will be a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, which could have a shorter recovery period.
“It happened on his very first run. I saw it happen. But he continued to go in,” DHS head coach David Vogt said of the injury to Woolverton. “We kept calling runs hoping he wouldn’t pull the ball and keep it. But he kept pulling it and making plays for us. Who knows how bad his shoulder is, but it shows how much he loves playing football and how much it means to him to be out there even when he’s hurt.”
While Woolverton is one of the state’s top quarterbacks, he’s also an elite safety. His loss on defense also was felt.
“I call him the eraser on defense,” Vogt said. “If anyone messes up, he makes a big play, a big tackle to stop it. But credit to Chase Robertson. He stepped in and did a nice job at that position for us.”
DHS scored on every drive it had Saturday and added a final-minute 70-yard kickoff return by Gage Mestas. The performance came a week after the Demons scored on all but one drive in the season opener in Colorado Springs against Mitchell in a 64-0 victory.
After a 9-yard Pueblo County punt that was partially blocked on the opening series of the game, Durango needed only four plays to go 39 yards for the game’s first points. Woolverton ran for 13 yards on the play in which he was injured, but he then hit Finneseth on a 10-yard pass. Messier would reel off runs of 14 and two yards, the latter going for a touchdown. Sam Carozza made the extra point, as he did all game, and DHS led 7-0 with 9:19 to go in the first quarter.
Pueblo County (2-1, 1-1 SCL) again had to punt on its second drive. This time, it was down on the Durango 15-yard line. DHS converted multiple third downs and a fourth-and-2 on a fake punt run by Mestas. After 15 plays and 6:19 of clock, Messier was in the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 Demons with 10:51 to go in the second quarter.
Durango’s third drive was set up by an interception by Robertson. Pueblo County quarterback Chase Hartman had tight end Seth Sherwood open, but the throw was behind Sherwood. Robertson made a beautiful play to haul in the fifth interception of the season for the Demons on Durango’s own 46.
Durango would go 54 yards in seven plays and score on a 14-yard TD run by Woolverton to make it a 21-0 advantage after the Demons had run 5:04 off the clock.
“I was happy with how we ran the ball,” Vogt said. “That was one of our big goals coming into this game, and we did a good job of establishing that and controlling the tempo of the game.”
Two 15-yard facemask penalties would help the Hornets score before halftime. The first came on the kickoff to give the Hornets the ball at midfield. Another came on a Durango sack of Hartman that made it second-and-9 instead of third-and-24.
Hartman would continue the drive inside the 5-yard line. Durango’s defense made two big goal line stops to set up a fourth-and-goal from the 1 with only seconds to go in the first half. Hartman ran a quarterback keeper and was stacked up at the line of scrimmage, but the pile was pushed across the goal line, and Hartman was in the end zone to cut Durango’s lead to 21-7 at halftime.
“We had way too many penalties,” Vogt said. “We absolutely have to clean those up. Good teams don’t make that many mistakes. We will emphasize cleaning that up and keeping our heads, too. They got into our heads a bit. We have to make sure we play our game and focus on what we can control.”
Durango got the ball first in the third quarter, and Finneseth lined up under center. He ran for 46 yards on the first play of the half. That eased any nerves the Demons had after Woolverton’s exit.
“He’s just a freak athlete,” Vogt said of Finneseth. “He can make a big play happen any time. He gets reps in practice, and we are confident in him. When he’s back there, he’s a huge threat.”
Five plays later, Finneseth ran into the end zone on a 9-yard score to make it 28-7 with 8:13 to play in the third quarter. On the drive, Finneseth hit Mestas on a big first-down completion to show the Demons could still be dangerous through the air even with Woolverton out.
“Jordan was super supportive on the sideline telling us what to do on plays and how to execute properly,” Mestas said. “On that pass Ben threw to me, Jordan told him exactly where I would be and where to throw the ball to get the first down. Even though Jordan was out, he came through and helped us out as a leader.”
It would be Durango’s only drive of the third quarter. Pueblo County would run out the rest of the clock while in the midst of a 69-yard scoring drive aided by two big fourth-down conversions. Peyton Miller would score on a 5-yard TD run to cut Durango’s lead to 28-14. The drive ate 9:25 of clock and took 15 plays.
Pueblo County would try an onside kick, but Durango’s Kyler Reimers was there to recover it. Durango would end a 51-yard scoring drive with a 36-yard touchdown run by Mestas, who took an option pitch from Finneseth, reversed field and ran past the Hornets’ defense for the score that made it 35-14 Durango with 8:48 to play.
“Shout out to the line on that one,” Mestas said. “I found a hole and was able to execute.”
The Hornets would get another good drive going into Durango territory on their next drive. But a pass rush got to Hartman on third-and-10 from the Durango 33, with Josh Bates getting a hit on Hartman as he released the ball. On fourth-and-10, Hartman threw high to running back Ethan Mauger, and the DHS defense forced a turnover on downs with 6:41 to play to end the Hornets’ hopes of any kind of comeback.
Finneseth would score on the ground again for DHS late in the fourth quarter to cap off a 67-yard drive. His 20-yard scoring run made it 42-14 Demons with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
“I was a little worried having to take Jordan’s place because he is just a stud,” Finneseth said. “It felt really good knowing how the line stepped up. That really helped me out a lot making my job easier.
“We have to hope for the best with Jordan because a guy like him is just irreplaceable. But we know we will be OK no matter what happens.”
Pueblo County added late touchdown – the only passing score of the game – on a 20-yard pitch and catch from Hartman to Joel Gonzales. It cut Durango’s lead to 42-21 with one minute to play after an eight-play, 80-yard drive that took 4:19 of clock.
But Durango would get one last score. On the kickoff, Mestas hauled in a short, high kick over his shoulder. He turned around upfield, made a few tacklers miss and outran the kicker to the end zone for a 70-yard kick return touchdown.
“I saw nothing but green grass ahead of me,” Mestas said. “I found my blockers and was ready to get into the end zone. Their kicker took a bad angle, and I was able to get outside of him and make the play.”
While Durango awaits a status update on Woolverton, attention will turn to preparation for the home opener at 5 p.m. Friday against Pueblo Centennial (0-3, 0-2 SCL).
“You aren’t going to replace Jordan,” Vogt said. “We will have to put an offense together that fits our personnel for when he’s not there. We will go back to the drawing board and have a great offensive plan for next week.”
Even if Woolverton has to miss time, the Demons know he will still be there to lead them any way he can.
“We all have to step up, but we have faith in Ben at quarterback and Tyler Harms, too,” Mestas said. “It will be a different game without Jordan, for sure, but with his support on the sideline helping the team effort, we will be OK. We will take this week of practice very seriously. We know what is at stake this year. We will pick up Jordan any way we can and hope he’s back sooner than later.”