Reinforcements are back in time for the state football playoffs for the Durango High School football team. It will not come in the form of home fans, though.
A 14-day quarantine ended Thursday for senior quarterback Jordan Woolverton and senior receiver Ben Finneseth. They rejoined the No. 3 Durango Demons (5-0) two days before No. 6 Lutheran (4-1) will visit in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A State Football Playoffs quarterfinal round. The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Durango.
Finneseth and Woolverton returned to the practice field a day after senior receiver Gage Mestas also returned to action after missing last week’s game against Cañon City while in the concussion protocol.
“We are so excited. It is a feeling just like the first day of football practice again,” Woolverton said ahead of Thursday’s practice. “I am so ready to see the guys, go out there and have fun with them and sling the ball around.”
Finneseth and Woolverton were kept out of last week’s regular-season finale after close contact with an athletic trainer who later tested positive for COVID-19. They were given a mandatory 14-day quarantine dating back to Nov. 5, the day the players were taped up before practice by the trainer.
So, the two had to watch from afar as DHS used a completely reconfigured offense to earn a 27-13 win against Cañon City to secure a share of the 3A South Central League championship
That win gave DHS a home quarterfinal game and the three seniors who missed last week one final chance to play on their home field in their high school careers.
“That meant everything to us,” Woolverton said. “For the whole team to put in the effort they did to get that win, I know I can speak for Ben and Gage and say how much we appreciate this team. We have a bond with these guys like no other, and we are very happy to get to play one more game at home with these guys.”
While the Demons will have the services of their three all-state weapons not only on offense but also in key positions on the defensive side of the ball, DHS will play without the aid of its home fans for a second consecutive week.
As the COVID-19 dial was elevated to orange last week, San Juan Basin Public Health gave Durango School District 9-R the go-ahead to allow up to 75 fans into the stadium. But as 9-R schools closed to in-person learning and transitioned back to online class, the school district opted to keep fans outside of the stadium last week.
Still, a small group of parents and supporters gathered outside the north fence of the stadium to cheer on the Demons to the league title win.
That will have to be the case again Saturday. With the COVID-19 dial now elevated to red, the district and SJBPH thought it safest to limit Saturday’s attendance to only the teams involved and limited game workers.
“I thought it was amazing how our parents adapted,” 9-R athletic director Ryan Knorr said. “I don’t think we can encourage anyone to do that, as the purpose of no fans is in line with minimizing risk with the virus. But, thinking about it, there’s no way a pandemic would keep my parents away from the field my senior year.
“I hate that our players can’t share the moments in a traditional way with parents in the stands, but at least they are on the field. Our parents continue to find ways to support, and I appreciate that. We have an amazing parent group with football. They’ve rolled with all of the adversity this year and appreciate what the coaches and all of us are trying to do to make the most out of tough circumstances.”
A live stream of the game will be available on the NFHS Network through the Durango athletics website. A subscription costs $10.99 per month and can be canceled anytime. An annual pass is available for $69.99 a year.
Knorr said the live stream this week will sync with the radio broadcast provided on KKDG 99.7 FM.
Additionally, the DHS band, cheerleaders and dance teams also will not attend Saturday’s game.
“I am sad for our kids, but it is where our community is at right now,” Knorr said, referencing a spike in COVID-19 cases.