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Bluejays, Bulldogs vie for 8-man Mountain League title

Chorbin Cressler, now a senior, looks for an opening to run against Rangely in this file photo.
Deep league set to have weekly challenges

Over the past few seasons, the Mountain League in the eight-man classification has emerged as the deepest in the state. After two of last year’s state semifinal spots were occupied by league members, the rest of the state has taken notice.

Dove Creek, returning a talented core from a state semifinalist squad, and Mancos, which has qualified for the postseason field in each of the last six years, enter the fall with high ambitions and expectations.

The preseason poll released by Colorado High School Activities Association, has posted the Bluejays and Bulldogs at No. 4 and No. 5, respectively. Add to the league equation the returning state runner-up, Sanford, home to reigning eight-man player of the year, Kelton Gartrell, and this fall has the makings of a fantastic league title chase. The Indians open the season ranked No. 2, behind six-time defending state champion Sedgwick County.

Dove Creek’s lone losses from a season ago came against Sanford and Sedgwick County, and head coach Shane Baughman’s group looks to prove that last year’s state semifinal appearance was no fluke. The Bulldogs return one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the state, Chorbin Cressler, who enters his senior season coming off a year when he ran for over 500 yards, and accounted for nine touchdowns on the ground and through the air.

Entering his fourth year as a starter, Cressler has impressed his coach through his continued progression. “He’s experienced,” said Baughman of his signal-caller, “and the past couple of seasons in tough league games and the postseason have helped him to have poise in his decision-making in big moments.”

The All-State selection guides and offense that will look for some younger stars that have been waiting in the wings to fill in for a graduated backfield and offensive line.

Dove Creek football coach Shane Baughman puts hope in his offensive line as his Bulldogs open their season.

“We’re excited about the development of the offensive front,” said Baughman. “We’ve got a number of players who have been through the system, and have been working hard to be ready to take on the starting role.” Junior Audric Chadd steps into the offensive line, alongside senior Blaine Johnson and sophomore Tyson Beanland.

On the other side of the ball, Baughman hopes that team speed will help the Bulldogs contain opposing offenses. “This is one of the fastest defensive units I’ve ever coached,” said Baughman, “and I’m pleased with how fundamentally sound this group is.”

As for the brutal Bulldog schedule, which will include a pair of 11-man contests against Gunnison and Monument Valley (Utah), Baughman knows that each outing will require his team’s full attention. “This is the deepest league in the state,” said Baughman, “and so we know we’re only going to be able focus on one week at a time.”

The Bulldogs open with four consecutive road games to begin the season, starting with a trip to Plateau Valley on Saturday, Aug. 28th at 1 p.m. Trips to Rangely and Dolores follow that up before the Bulldogs finally open their home slate with their league opener on Sept. 24, as Norwood comes to town on Homecoming. Dove Creek will turn around the following week to take on Mancos in a highly-anticipated clash on Friday, Oct. 1.

Chase Moore takes off on a 45-yard touchdown run in this file photo. The Bluejays senior will be the focal point of every opponent’s preparation.

Mancos, meanwhile, has set the bar high for themselves, yet again.

After falling in the state quarterfinals a year ago, the Bluejays are primed for another run at a league crown and deep postseason run.

After posting massive numbers during his sophomore and junior seasons, including averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground, senior Chase Moore will be the focal point of every opponent’s game week preparation. The lightning-quick back joins classmates Luika Cova, Jesse Henry and junior Ayden Mathews as captains for the Bluejays under head coach Josh Gardner.

Cova and Henry have been a steady force on both the offensive and defensive lines, and will look to open up gaps for Moore. Mathews, meanwhile, takes on the starting quarterback position for the second consecutive season, a year after tossing eight touchdowns.

Mancos coach Josh Gardner works with the offensive line during a Bluejays practice in this file photo.

“Our boys put in a great deal of hard work in the offseason,” said Gardner, “and it comes from wanting to play ‘first class football,’ where the boys are ready to play hard-nosed football.”

The Bluejays will also see the continued emergence of a number of upperclassmen on both sides of the ball, including seniors Trevor Paquin and James Wagoner, to couple with a strong sophomore class to help Mancos dictate their tempo on both sides of the ball.

Most important, Gardner wants his team to focus on taking care of each other.

“We strive to be good team players and have a great collective attitude,” he said, “and I think this group of seniors will take on the leadership to help us reach our goals.”

Much like Dove Creek, Mancos has a very tough schedule, which includes their season opening trip to Hayden on Saturday, Aug. 28 at 1 p.m. Along with their headlining clashes against No. 3 Merino (Sept. 11), Dove Creek (Oct. 1) and Sanford (Oct. 15), the Bluejays will also play both of the other Montezuma County high schools – Dolores on Thursday, Sept. 2, and Montezuma-Cortez on Friday, Sept. 24.