That has been the simple motto for the Durango High School football team since the Demons were allowed to gather in small groups during the summer for workouts.
Durango had to be ready if the fall football season started when school resumed in late August. It didn’t happen. The Demons then had to be ready to change gears and go through a fall without football with eyes on a spring season instead. Then, suddenly in September, Durango had to be ready to play a game on two weeks notice as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado High School Activities Association came to an agreement to begin a six-game fall season during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
On the eve of the season opener, a top-three matchup in all of Class 3A against top-ranked Pueblo South, the ready Demons were thrown another curve in the form of a game cancellation.
After a red-hot start to the season, Durango then had to be ready to play a second half on the road without all-state senior quarterback Jordan Woolverton after he sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. DHS got the job done, but the following week the team once again had to be ready in the event Woolverton wouldn’t play. But, on game day against Evergreen in the home opener on Halloween, Woolverton was ready.
Two weeks later, it was more adversity for DHS. This time, the Demons had to be ready to play not only without Woolverton but also star senior receivers Ben Finneseth and Gage Mestas, as Finneseth and Woolverton missed the regular-season finale against Cañon City because of a mandatory 14-day quarantine after close contact with an athletic trainer who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Mestas, meanwhile, sat out with a concussion. Durango was still ready, going on to win 27-13 for its first undefeated regular season since 1973.
It has all led to Saturday’s stage, the Class 3A state quarterfinals against No. 6 Lutheran (4-1) for the No. 3 Demons (5-0). It is a level the Demons haven’t stepped beyond since 1997, as Durango has suffered quarterfinal losses in 2015, 2017 and 2019 under current head coach David Vogt.
The Demons say they are ready.
“What we have been preaching all year from the beginning was ‘be ready’ because everything was just so unsure of what could happen,” Finneseth said. “I think that motto has really driven us a lot this year, especially last week when we couldn’t play because it was so unexpected, but those guys were totally ready and took leadership.
“Last year’s quarterfinal loss was heartbreaking. This year, we are very excited for this opportunity to play at home in the quarterfinals, and we’re gonna bring it.”
DHS will have to be sharp against a team that was ranked No. 1 for several weeks this season before a loss to Holy Family, which is now ranked No. 2 in these eight-team playoffs. Parker-based Lutheran has had two weeks off and will make only its second road trip of the season, something Vogt sees as an advantage for the Demons on Saturday.
When Lutheran gets the ball, the Lions will look to speed up the game with a high-tempo, no-huddle offense. It is led by junior quarterback Clayton Jacobs, who has 1,082 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions this season while he has completed 59.7% of his passes. He also has rushed for 323 yards and three more scores.
Jacobs is surrounded by playmakers at running back and receiver. Sophomore running back Ryan Kenny has led the team with 489 yards and two scores on 61 carries.
Six Lutheran receivers have more than 100 yards this season, and five have multiple TD receptions. The team is led by junior Brody Donahue, who has 16 receptions for 267 yards and three scores, and senior receiver Colton Thewes has five touchdowns on only nine catches that have gone for 166 yards.
“They are a very good offense,” said Woolverton, who has three of the team’s 10 interceptions from his safety position on defense this year. “They run the no-huddle and are going to be going quick, but we have prepared for it. It is going to be a battle for us defensively to keep up with them, but we fully believe we can keep up and still play our style of game on the defensive side of the ball.”
Woolverton is full of confidence in Durango’s offensive execution even though he has rarely practiced in the last four weeks because of his shoulder injury and then the quarantine. Finneseth and Woolverton had only two days of practice this week to prepare for Saturday.
“Timing is important,” Woolverton said. “Lutheran is a very good team with talented kids and coaches. Practice was very crucial to figure out our scheme together as a team and get my timing with receivers back. It’s not a lot of time to figure everything out before heading into a huge playoff game, but this whole team is ready. I’m ready, Ben is ready, and we are excited to get back out there.”
In four games this year, Woolverton has thrown for 629 yards, six touchdowns and one interception and has completed 60.3% of his passes. He also has run for 169 yards and five scores on only 18 carries.
The DHS running back committee is led by junior Nate Messier, who has 419 yards and seven touchdowns on 68 carries. Finneseth has another 194 yards and four touchdowns on 20 attempts while he has caught 11 passes for 153 yards and two more TDs.
Mestas also has more than 100 rushing yards to go with a team-high 14 receptions for 254 yards while also serving as a dangerous weapon in special teams.
“We are going to go out there and play our game behind our incredible offensive line,” Woolverton said. “When we play our game, we have a chance against every team in the state. We are going to go out there and do what we’ve done all year long, from the guys up front to everyone behind them. We are going to compete and come out with a win.”
DHS will play in an empty stadium for the second consecutive week. The game will be live streamed on the NFHS Network through the Durango athletics website for a $10.99 monthly fee. The radio broadcast can be heard on KKDG 99.7 FM.
“It’s definitely weird,” DHS sophomore lineman Joshua Bates said of playing without fans. “As an individual, I feed off of that energy.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will advance to face the victor of No. 2 Holy Family (7-0). Holy Family defeated Evergreen 41-6 on Friday night in the quarterfinals. Durango would have to travel to face Holy Family in Broomfield, while Lutheran would get to host the semifinals after having to go on the road in the first round.
“For us seniors, this is our last home game of our lives,” Mestas said. “It’s gonna hit home for us, and we want to get the job done with our brothers and make the most of it. We want to leave that field with a smile.
“Everyone knows what is on the line. Everyone has a state championship in mind. We are coming into this game full of fire and ready to start our journey to the state championship.”