GREELEY – The road to a title gets rockier every week.
For head coach Josh Gardner’s Bluejays, that path has taken them into uncharted territory.
Mancos on Saturday carried its unblemished record and dreams of a state semifinal to Greeley to face Dayspring Christian Academy in the state quarterfinal. While the Jays couldn’t quite pull away from the Eagles in the way they had so many other opponents this season, Mancos did just enough to escape with a 33-24 victory and advance to their program’s first ever state semifinal game.
Dayspring Christian, the runner-up in the talented Plains League, brought in its own successful pedigree, a perennial postseason qualifier and dominant state program (2011 and 2013 state champs) before Sedgwick County rattled off six straight eight-man titles in recent years.
In a match-up of a pair of the classification’s player of the year candidates, Chase Moore for the Jays and senior Garrett Krehbiel for DCA, Saturday’s showdown would test both defenses to the limit.
After a six-touchdown performance in the opening round victory over Fowler, the Eagles made stopping Moore a priority in their defensive game plan.
That wouldn’t stop him on special teams.
After the Eagles marched down the field to open the scoring, Moore provided the immediate answer, breaking through on the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown return to tie the game up at 6.
After the Mancos defense denied the Eagles on their ensuing drive, the Jays would get their offense going, churning downfield before junior quarterback Ayden Mathews burst through the line for a touchdown.
No. 2 Mancos (10-0, 3-0 Mountain League) led 12-6 after the opening 12 minutes, and would double its advantage in the second quarter, with Moore tallying his second TD, this one by more conventional means, to give the visitors an 18-6 cushion heading to the locker room.
The Mancos defense, led by senior Mason Goodwin and junior Lane Greenlee on the defensive front, kept DCA in check all afternoon, blanking the Eagles through the second and third quarters.
Meanwhile, senior Evan Sehnert knocked through the only points of the third quarter on a field goal to give Mancos a 21-6 lead heading to the fourth.
The Eagles wouldn’t go quietly though, finally generating a scoring drive early in the fourth quarter to close to a 21-12 deficit.
The Jays would restore their 15-point lead moments later, as Mathews connected with sophomore Kail Wayman to build the lead back to 27-12.
After a defensive struggle in the middle quarters, suddenly the offenses marched back and forth on each other, with Dayspring adding another score to make it 27-18, before Mancos responded with Mathews’ second rushing TD of the day to essentially put the game out of reach late in the fourth.
A late DCA score would bring them back within nine, but Mancos would allow the clock to run out, and make the lengthy ride back home a joyous one.
Not only will the jays make their first ever state semifinal appearance, they’ll get to do it on their home field. A familiar foe awaits, as Sanford clipped Vail Christian in their quarterfinal meeting to set up a Mountain League semifinal.
Their first encounter went to Mancos, 60-24 on Oct. 15th, in a game in which Moore rushed for 373 yards and five touchdowns. Their playoff meeting will mark 364 days since Sanford knocked out Mancos, 36-28, from last year’s postseason.
The winner will move on to face the winner of No. 1 Haxtun and No. 5 Holly in the state title game on the campus of CSU-Pueblo over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Jays and Indians are slated to face each other on Saturday, Nov. 20, with a kickoff time still to be determined.