Nothing could have kept Jordan Woolverton off the field for the Durango Demons on Saturday.
The senior quarterback for Durango High School played through a shoulder sprain suffered last week at Pueblo County and helped lead No. 2 Durango to a hard-fought 17-8 victory Saturday afternoon in a big Class 3A clash with a talented Evergreen team.
“It means everything to me,” Woolverton said. “The whole team comes in and works very hard around me just to be able to come out here and play this game. The chance I wasn’t going to play this game was heartbreaking to me, and I couldn’t let it happen. I had to be out here with my guys on senior day. It meant everything.
“Coming into the game, I didn’t think about my shoulder at all. I had to come in 100% not even thinking about the shoulder injury at all.”
Woolverton completed 11-of-19 passes for 150 yards and one late interception. He was not expected to run to protect his ailing throwing shoulder, but he still galloped for 86 yards, including a game-breaking 52-yard touchdown in the third quarter that gave Durango a 10-0 lead.
“The kid is tough as nails,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “You have to break his leg to keep him from playing football with his team. He brings a different level to the game, and he’s just a great player that gives defenses a ton of trouble. He’s a team guy, a leader, and we’re certainly a different team when he’s playing and leading us.”
Woolverton was questionable all week after his season was put in jeopardy with the injury in last week’s 49-21 win at Pueblo County in which he exited at halftime. But an X-ray revealed only a Grade 1 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. Originally, it was feared he had a broken clavicle that could have ended his senior season.
The Demons practiced as if Woolverton would not play. Evergreen had no choice but to prepare for both scenarios. If Woolverton had not played, DHS was expected to execute a run-heavy offense with Ben Finneseth at quarterback.
“Preparing for the quarterback situation was easy,” Evergreen head coach Matthew Van Pragg said. “We just prepared for both. But I didn’t get to gameplan until Wednesday or Thursday because I was too busy making hotel reservations and figuring out how we were going to get here. There were some challenges, but I was extremely excited about the opportunity.”
The game was scheduled Monday after both teams had opponents fall off the schedule for Week 4 of a six-week regular season shortened because of COVID-19. It was the first home game all season for Durango after its Week 1 home opponent, Pueblo South, canceled because of COVID-19.
Evergreen was unable to take a bus for the trip, so the coaching staff had to coordinate carpool options to even make the more than six-hour trip to Durango.
In the end, the Demons improved to 3-0 to maintain position atop the Class 3A rankings. Evergreen, after a Week 1 loss to Palisade, fell to 2-2. Only eight teams will make the Class 3A state playoffs this season instead of the usual 16. Durango is one of six teams still undefeated in Class 3A, and there are a handful of quality one-loss teams out there. DHS will put its unbeaten record on the line at 2 p.m. Saturday at Pueblo East.
The loss likely means Evergreen will not make the state playoffs. But for Van Pragg, the Cougars can only look to next week’s game at Green Mountain (3-1).
“It’s tough, but we haven’t spoken playoffs,” Van Pragg said. “In a shortened season like, if your goal is state championship, you don’t even know if you’re going to play next week. Our goal is to get to Friday or Saturday and see what happens. We came out here today, played our tails off, the effort was fantastic, and now we get ready for the next one.
“We don’t even know if we will play next week or have practice on Monday. They’ve already shutdown in Jefferson County all of our fields. Parents aren’t allowed to come to our games anymore. This was our last chance for our parents to see our kids play, and that’s important for me. We will put on a show and battle the next two weeks, I promise that. It depends on what the selection committee thinks. Us giving this effort against a team that will end up either one or two in the state, I think we made a case with two losses with this crew that we deserve to be in.”
Saturday’s game was a defensive struggle for the first half. Each team mounted one good drive in the first quarter. Durango turned the ball over on downs on the Evergreen 18-yard line on its first drive of the game after the Demons had marched 78 yards.
Evergreen’s best first-quarter drive ended with a 46-yard field goal try from Owen Pardo that was blocked by Ford Pitts of the Demons. Pitts had a huge game with two sacks, too.
Durango’s Chase Robertson was able to field the blocked kick and return it out to the Demons’ own 40.
The Cougars would go back to Pardo for a 48-yard field goal try after its next drive. This time, his kick was off line and well short to give the Demons the ball once more on their own 20.
“We haven’t made a kick all year, so I don’t know how much faith I should have,” Van Pragg said. “(Durango) has some big boys, and we don’t. When they come and plow over your guard and block a kick, is it that kid’s fault or physics? I think (Pardo) hit the first one well. The second one, I think he got nervous there was going to be A-gap pressure and just got under it and tried to get it up in the air and missed.”
The teams exchanged punts most of the second quarter before Durango finally got a big break. Evergreen punted, and Durango’s Gage Mestas hauled in a fair catch at the Evergreen 46-yard line with 14.7 seconds to play in the half. Durango had no timeouts after using all three in the first quarter.
Woolverton would find Mestas, who led DHS with seven catches for 98 yards, for a huge 39-yard connection on the sideline with 5.4 seconds to go in the half. Woolverton then ran for 3 yards, and the clock was stopped with 0.2 seconds to play before half. That gave Durango kicker Sam Carozza a chance to trot out for a 21-yard field goal before halftime, and he drilled it to give Durango a 3-0 lead as time expired in the first half.
“I knew I had to get somewhere up the field and be in bounds,” Mestas said of his big catch to set up the score. “I had to help out the team. The line gave Jordan plenty of time to throw, and we were able to make the play happen.”
Evergreen got the ball first in the third quarter and quickly marched across midfield. But a key holding penalty would bring the Cougars back to their own side of the field and eventually led to a punt.
On Durango’s first offensive drive of the second half, Woolverton saw some space up the middle of the field and outran the entire Evergreen defense to the end zone for the 52-yard score.
“I told Jordan Stanley before the play, ‘Hey, I’m going to follow you. Get a block in and let’s go.’ He got a perfect block,” Woolverton said. “I saw a little crease in the defense and took it. I actually wasn’t expecting to score and thought someone would catch me from behind, but it felt good to get in the end zone.”
Evergreen was frustrated down two scores after playing with so much energy in the first half. A couple of quarterback sacks by Durango of Evergreen quarterback Griffin Lauritano also sucked some life out of the visiting team.
After another Evergreen punt, Durango would score one more time with a beautiful display of power running. DHS went 56 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run by junior running back Nate Messier. That gave DHS a 17-0 lead with 11:55 to play.
Messier also played through a sprained knee and received limited touches. But he made the most of his time on the field with 11 carries for 69 yards and the touchdown.
“(Messier) is a downhill runner. He had been out all week, and we had to limit his carries to test the knee out,” Vogt said. “He did a great job, and we had five or six running backs all asking to go in. It was a good problem to have today.”
Lauritano tried to lead the Cougars down the field on Evergreen’s next drive, but he would be intercepted by Woolverton in the end zone. Woolverton was not slated to play any defense because of his injury, but he insisted on being on the field in a big game, and he made a crucial play.
“I slow played it to see if I could bait him into throwing it. He did, and I cut under it and was right there,” Woolverton said.
Durango would drive from its own 4 across midfield and burned more than seven minutes of game clock before a punt.
With 3:54 to go and down 17-0, Lauritano was forced to try to make some big plays, and he would be intercepted for the second time in the game. This time, it was Robertson who had it for DHS after he nearly had two interceptions earlier in the game.
Lauritano would make up for it with a defensive interception of his own against Woolverton, who made a big tackle to prevent Lauritano from scoring. One play later, Lauritano escaped a sack and found a wide open Jack Lewis for a 34-yard touchdown. Lauritano’s 2-point conversion pass would be tipped but caught by Danny Schneider to get Evergreen within 17-8 with 1:21 to play.
Evergreen couldn’t recover an onside kick that Durango’s Ean Goodwin was able to fall on, and the Demons were able to run out the clock for the win.
“We struggled with execution today,” Van Pragg said. “It is the little things when you play a good football team an drive six hours to get to it. A certain read on a pass here or a block there wins or loses the game. They had more of them today than we did, especially in the second half.”
Durango was able to run for 255 yards as a team while it held Evergreen to 53 rushing yards with only 19 going to running back Noah Martens.
Lauritano was 17-of-32 passing for 170 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
“We wanted to frustrate him and felt if we hit him, he would be looking over his shoulder and not focusing downfield,” Vogt said of the Evergreen quarterback. “The second half, we wanted to make sure he felt our presence.”
For Durango, the biggest cause of concern was eight penalties for 90 yards, including four personal fouls.
“Emotions are so high, and it means to much to our kids,” Vogt said. “A lot of it is protecting our own players. We just have to talk with our pads instead of our mouths.”
Woolverton echoed his coach’s sentiment ahead of next week’s game.
“We have to clean up the mistakes. We had a lot of penalties,” he said. “We gotta take those back and clean it up. We are playing good football right now, and I am excited with where we are. If we clean up those penalties and keep playing the ball we are right now, we will be fine.”