All year, the Durango High School football team believed it was the best in Colorado’s Class 3A. Saturday, the Demons will get a chance to prove it.
No. 3 Durango (7-0) is set to face No. 1 Roosevelt (7-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Neta and Edie DeRose ThunderBowl on the campus of Colorado State University-Pueblo. The winner will be crowned the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A state champion.
“We are the underdog coming in as the No. 3 against No. 1,” DHS senior quarterback and safety Jordan Woolverton said. “We know we aren’t the top dog, just like last week against Holy Family. Both Roosevelt and Holy Family jumped us in the rankings this year. We have the mentality going in that we want to prove the kind of team we are. We are ready to prove we are the best. We are all ready to go to war one last time.”
Durango eliminated No. 2 Holy Family with a 34-14 win in last week’s semifinals. For the Roosevelt Rough Riders, it was a 49-14 romp of No. 4 Pueblo South.
Offensive line play was the key to victory for both teams. Durango ran for 360 yards against the Tigers, while the Rough Riders went for 299 yards against the Colts.
Meanwhile, Durango’s run defense held the opponent to only 51 rushing yards, while Roosevelt did allow Pueblo South to run for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
“We have challenged our guys to come off the ball and win the battle on the line of scrimmage,” said DHS head coach David Vogt, who is coaching in his first state championship. “We have been really physical out there, and we are expecting to do the same thing. Defensively, we are going to be ready, too. We want to play fast, attacking football.
“We are not scared of anybody. We will line up against anybody, and there’s no fear. And every team we play is scared of us. That’s a good thing.”
Roosevelt head coach Lane Wasinger said his team will be ready to matchup with Durango’s elite talent, led by Woolverton and his receiving and rushing duo of seniors Ben Finneseth and Gage Mestas.
“We have seen a bit of everything this year. I think Durango presents a unique challenge with some of the high-profile kids they have,” Wasinger said during Tuesday’s CHSAA press conference. “We enjoyed our challenge last week with Pueblo South, another unfamiliar opponent with a history of success. Our kids are excited. I wouldn’t put anybody up too high. I think we have to play a good football game, and it should be a good one.”
Woolverton finished with less than 100 pass yards in the semifinal win but ran for 155 yards and two touchdowns. This season, he has 865 passing yards and 10 touchdowns to one interception in six games. He has completed 60% of his passes, with 20 of those going to Mestas for 398 yards and two touchdowns.
Mestas said the Demons missed several scoring chances last week in the passing game and said the team is working to capitalize on more of those opportunities.
“We have plenty of room for improvement based on the last game,” he said. “Roosevelt is a very good team, and we have to minimize those mistakes. We definitely have the speed and athletes to take advantage of opportunities like those this week. They have good athletes, too, and that’s why we’re both here.”
Woolverton has rushed for 409 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns. He is one of three Demons with more than 400 rushing yards along with Finneseth and junior running back Nate Messier, who has played through various injuries all season. Finneseth added 154 yards and a touchdown last week and now has 478 yards and seven rushing touchdowns this season to go with 18 catches for 227 yards and three receiving scores.
Messier was limited to 29 yards on five carries last week but still leads the Demons with 517 yards on 84 carries. He has run for seven scores.
For Durango, it’s all powered by the offensive line of Ethan Ryan, Walter Stauffer, Joshua Bates, Rocco Estes and Nathan Howland.
“We are going to follow our leaders up front and work harder,” Finneseth said. “We can’t come this far just to end with a loss. We’re going to follow our line like we’ve done all season, and they will do what they do best.”
Behind its own big offensive line, senior Keegan Sterkel has led Roosevelt’s rushing attack with 652 yards and seven touchdowns on 84 carries. Last week, he ran for three scores and 192 yards.
Roosevelt senior quarterback Brig Hartson has thrown for 1,033 yards and 13 touchdowns with four interceptions. He has a completion percentage of 63.9. Hartson also has run for 280 yards on 50 attempts. Three have gone for touchdowns. Junior Cooper Walton leads the Rough Riders in rushing scores with eight, including three of his own last week, while he has 308 yards on 35 carries.
“They throw the ball a little bit, but they are more ground-and-pound,” said Woolverton, who has five of Durango’s 16 defensive interceptions this season. “If a play works, they are going to stick with it. They want to run the rock right down your throat and then sneak passes by you.”
Roosevelt sophomore Tucker Peterson has 393 yards on 19 receptions with eight going for touchdowns this year. Junior Keaton Kaiser is a high-volume target with 35 catches for 347 yards and two scores. Junior Jaden Herrera is another threat in the passing game. He has hauled in 15 balls for 221 yards and three touchdowns.
Durango’s pass rush has been relentless this year despite only recording 12 sacks. Senior linebackers Ford Pitts and Kyler Reimers have combined for nine of those and 15 more quarterback hurries. DHS likes to get early pressure on opposing quarterbacks and will try to bring the heat again Saturday.
“We have physical kids who are not scared and will wear you down,” Vogt said. “They might not be the biggest kids, but they come after you and fight you every play. That’s the type of defense we preach. You don’t have to be a huge kid as long as you’re coming downhill and making sure tackles. Opposing quarterbacks know they’re gonna get hit and have to look over their shoulder.”
Roosevelt’s pass rush is headed by junior Clayton Robinson with 5½. Sophomore Anthony Munoz has another four sacks of the team’s 17.
Linebackers have dominated the Durango tackling this year. Senior Thomas Barnes has 57 total tackles while Reimers and Pitts each have more than 50. Cole Matava, a junior, ranks fourth on the team with 44 tackles. Leading run stopper Will Knight heads the DHS defensive line with 42 tackles.
“Since second grade, we have been talking about going to a state championship,” Reimers said. That’s always been the goal. We have to make sure we are focused and we have fun out there. We will come together as brothers and family and play for each other and not ourselves.”
The Rough Riders have nine interceptions and eight fumble recoveries this season. Seven different players have intercepted a pass, led by Robinson and junior Brock Saya. Munoz has a team-high three fumble recoveries.
Defensively, Walton is the Roosevelt leading tackler with 70, including 15 for a loss.
Roosevelt will play its safeties deep off the line of scrimmage to defend Durango’s long passes, while the corners also will play off the line. DHS is comfortable throwing passes underneath or still challenging the coverage down the field.
“They are pretty fast,” Finneseth said. “They flow well and they have made a ton of plays defensively.”
Roosevelt’s defense has allowed only 65 points this season, less than 10 per game. Durango has allowed 11.7 points per game.
DHS will hope to have an advantage on special teams with solid kickoff and punting performances from Woolverton in recent weeks. Field goal kicking looks even on paper. Brecken Sawyer, a senior, has made all 37 extra point attempts for Roosevelt this season and is 2-for-2 on field goals with a long of 32. The Demons kicker is junior Sam Carozza, a converted soccer player who has made 32-of-34 extra points and 2-of-3 field goals with a long of 37.
Mestas said he is hoping to have an impact on the return game. He has one kickoff return for a touchdown this year and is always dangerous on punts.
“We should be able to return their kicks,” Mestas said. “Special teams is a big part of what we do to make things happen. The coaches do a great job of putting me in position to make plays, and I’d love to make one this week.”
The Rough Riders made it to state after key wins throughout the season. It was a 45-10 road win at Frederick in the season opener before a 21-20 overtime win against Mead in Week 2 that thrust them into the top ranking.
In the first round of the playoffs, Roosevelt got past No. 8 Fort Morgan 17-16 in the final seconds before the semifinal romp of Pueblo South, the preseason No. 1 team.
“Success early against a team like Frederick and the year they had last year opened some eyes a bit,” Wasinger said. “We have some experience and talent ourself. We have a good vibe around the school and community. Everything is real positive.”
Durango’s current team is well versed in playing in the ThunderBowl during league games against Pueblo schools. The team is comfortable with a familiar hotel and a bus trip that is no different than any other league game over the last four seasons. The forecast calls for clear skies with a high of 57 degrees with light wind below 10 mph.
The Demons have already won the statewide coin toss done by CHSAA this year as a health precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep the teams from meeting at midfield and shaking hands before the game. For the championships, Denver Broncos guard Dalton Risner, a Wiggins High School alum, did the coin toss. It came up tails, giving lower seeds the win.
Practice has been focused though a bit emotional for the outgoing seniors who realize this is their last week together on a football field.
“It’s super sad, but it is also very exciting for all of us,” Mestas said. “There is a lot more tempo in practice preparing for a bigger goal. State is on our mind in every rep. The adrenaline is kicking in for a once in a lifetime game, but it’s been a great week of practice.”
Roosevelt is in its third state championship game in school history but has yet to win a title.
It will be the first time Durango has played in a state championship football game since 1988, and Durango will seek its first undisputed football title in school history. The only other title came in a 7-7 tie with Lamar in the 1954 Class A championship game. With no overtime rules, the two teams were declared co-champions. Coincidentally, Lamar will play Eaton for the Class 2A championship this year, too.
DHS is 0-3-1 all time in state championship football games.
A big state championship send off is scheduled at 10 a.m. Friday at DHS with a parade through town with a police escort all the way to the La Plata County line.
“This has been our goal since third grade for us seniors. To finally achieve this, to get here and be one game away from winning state, it means everything,” Woolverton said. “We want to put a good name on Durango because we love our town and our fans. We are ready to get to work and go get it next week and hopefully win this one for our town.”