MANCOS – A buzz had been building in Montezuma County ever since the schedule was released in mid-summer.
On the schedule for the first time ever, both the Mancos and Montezuma-Cortez football programs had circled the date on their calendar. On a cool fall evening at Mancos Field, the electricity permeated both sidelines, as the Panthers and Bluejays prepped for a matchup that had both communities excited.
For Mancos (5-0), the Jays would have to add three more players to the field, and adjust to the width of the 11-man field. For M-CHS (1-3), the Panthers would get to see firsthand one of the most physical running teams in the state.
In the end, Mancos made the personnel adjustments in their first game playing 11-man football since they switched from 1A to 8-man after the 2008 season. Head coach Josh Gardner’s Jays controlled the line of scrimmage and the field position battle en route to a comprehensive 40-0 victory over M-CHS.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time,” said Gardner. “The boys were excited to play – and the energy showed.”
Mancos landed the first punch of the feisty encounter with a three-and-out stop on the Panthers in the opening series. After a punt return set them up in M-CHS territory, senior running back Chase Moore needed only two plays to cover 48 yards, running in from five yards out to put the hosts in front, 7-0, two minutes into the game.
Another defensive stop, with seniors Mason Goodwin and Jesse Henry wreaking havoc in the Panther backfield, forced another M-CHS punt, and set up good field position yet again for the Ayden Mathews-led Bluejays.
In a play that exemplified the fiery Bluejays attitude, Moore was wrangled by a couple of Panthers after what appeared to be a short gain, but the senior was never actually brought to the ground. He rolled over a would-be tackler and kept on his feet, sprinting past a stunned Panther defense to score from 33 yards out.
The Panthers had a couple of drives that appeared to be promising, moving through the air with juniors Dorrian Hilliard and Caden Cote. Freshman Tay Wheat also had moments where he was one broken tackle away from springing free, but a combination of penalties and Mancos defensive pursuit, led by senior defensive back Evan Sehnert, kept senior quarterback Aca Dennison uncomfortable all night.
Sehnert, who has become a major contributor in all three phases of the game, serving as wide receiver, DB, and kicker, has added one more weapon to the Bluejays arsenal in his first year of varsity football. “Evan’s a basketball kid,” said Gardner, “but we’re all happy that he decided to come out in his last year to be a part of this program.”
After another short-lived Panther drive, Mancos took over in the red zone at the Panther 18 yard-line. Following behind junior Lane Greenlee, senior Andres Moreno, and sophomore Cole Dainty-Guilfoyle, the Jays bullied their way toward the goal line. Mathews capped the drive himself behind a full push forward by the front seven, putting Mancos in front 19-0.
Then, right before half, as the Panthers were starting to gain confidence in their ability to slow down the Mancos offense, disaster struck. M-CHS forced Mancos into a punt, but muffed the ball near their own goal line. Mancos recovered, and scored two plays later on a Kail Wayman plunge right on the stroke of halftime, to put the game out of reach at 26-0.
Mancos would add two more Chase Moore TDs within a two-minute span of each other midway through the second half to put the mercy rule into effect, up 40-0.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Gardner of his team’s shift to the 11-man game. “It seemed like a lot of adjustments in the week of practice, but we got a lot of kids in there.”
Mancos preps for a huge opener in the 8-man Mountain League schedule when they travel to Dove Creek (3-1) Friday, Oct. 1, for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Coverage of the colossal clash will be on local radio station, 98.7 KRTZ, and kicks off with the pregame commencing at 6:30 p.m. and kickoff slated for 7 p.m. between the local rivals.
Montezuma-Cortez, meanwhile, will continue its three-game road trip, traveling to Manitou Springs next week for a 7 p.m. contest on Friday night.