As impressive as Mancos’ defensive stand closing out the first half with a 14-6 lead was Saturday afternoon, their resistance during the last half of the second was even more resolute in a 44-22 rout of Lyons in the Colorado Class 1A eight-man semifinal.
“The kids knew that if we put our heads down and kept working at it, we’d eventually get the result we’d wanted,” said MHS head coach Josh Gardner. “And they really believed in where we’re going. It was really a team effort.”
“This was a very dynamic, very talented team that we played,” he said. “The plan was to control the line of scrimmage … have everyone do their jobs, put some pressure on their quarterback – really keep him contained or have him kind of scramble. And that was a huge deal; we knew if we could get No. 18 to scramble, he wasn’t as accurate passing as he usually is. So that helped us, and our defense really did a great job when it mattered.”
Very much respected by the top-seeded Bluejays (11-1 overall), Lyons senior Miles Dumbauld got the contest underway by leading the No. 4 Lions (11-1) 72 yards in only four plays and 1:38 of clock – including the opening kickoff return – and scored the first six points via a gutsy 63-yard burst on fourth down. His subsequent two-point conversion try, however, was stopped short … and Lyons wouldn’t lead again until late.
Mancos responded confidently, grinding out a nine-play (all runs), 80-yard scoring drive consuming 4:36, with senior quarterback Kail Wayman, just as feared by Lyons, sprinting in from 19 yards with 5:46 left in the first quarter. His two-point keeper, unlike Dumbauld’s, was successful and the Jays went up 8-6 – a lead that survived into the second stanza, thanks in large part to Wayman’s end-zone interception (and 3-yard return) of Dumbauld with 1:25 remaining.
Lyons’ defense, however, solidified and forced a Chris Medina punt after Wayman was sacked for a 6-yard loss back to Mancos’ 33-yard line. But the Lions, able to convert one fourth down, couldn’t convert another and relinquished possession at Mancos’ 24 with 5:47 left until halftime.
Helped by a 28-yard Wayman-to-Andrew Jaime pass, the Bluejays capitalized and went the required 76 yards in seven plays and 3:33, with Wayman breaking loose for an 8-yard TD run. Lions senior Keenan Young, however, managed to sack him on the conversion attempt, keeping Mancos within reach at 14-6 with 2:14 to go.
Senior Maregu Sullivan then returned Medina’s kickoff an optimistic 45 yards, with another 15 tacked on because of to a personal-foul call against the Jays – leaving Lyons, suddenly sensing vulnerability, set up at MHS’ 31 with 2:05 left. But after advancing to the 18, Lyons’ luck ran out. Back-to-back sacks of Dumbauld by Mancos sophomore Jacob Martin pushed the Lions back 18 yards, and Dumbauld’s desperate fourth-down toss into the end zone was batted away with only 12.3 ticks remaining.
“We’re all such good teammates and we all just walked such a perfect line,” Martin said. “When it all falls into place and we can do that as a team, nobody can stop us.”
Nobody, except possibly the Jays themselves. It was a lesson the boys in blue learned the hard way after a botched run play – Wayman tried retracting the football from his running back’s grasp to avoid oncoming tacklers, only to have it simultaneously knocked free and smothered by Lyons senior Harper Leino. The fumble killed stone-dead an authoritative 14-play drive, begun at Mancos’ 22 after Jaime was flattened by Lyons senior Camden Paznokas after a short kickoff return.
Back in business at their own 22 after MHS’ series, Jaime’s runback included, sapped an impressive 7:19 off the clock, the exhausted Lions went three-and-out. Tightening the proverbial screws on Lyons, Wayman returned do-it-all Dumbauld’s punt 44 yards to LHS’ 23 with 3:42 left in the third quarter.
Helping fill a major backfield vacancy created by a serious right-ankle injury (sustained during MHS’ shutout of 9-seed Sedgwick County the previous weekend) to sidelined senior Levi Martin, sophomore Jonah Ritter rushed for 11 yards on first down. Medina then carried for five yards, and Wayman crashed in from seven to put the Jays up 20-6 (junior Brandon Vannest’s two-point throw to senior Broc Imel was stopped short) with 2:49 still to go.
Still believing in avenging last year’s quarterfinals loss at Mancos, Lyons struck back with a five-play, 65-yard drive capped by a 35-yard Dumbauld-to-Leino connection over the deep middle with 1:15 left. Dumbauld then toted in the two-pointer and the guests were back within six, 20-14.
Nothing came from Jaime’s 23-yard kickoff return, setting the Jays up at their own 28, and after the quarter ended with Medina punting out of bounds, giving LHS the ball at Mancos’ 49, Lyons employed trickery threatening to steal all the momentum. Senior lineman Henry Johnson stepped back into the backfield after the snap beginning the fourth quarter, took the ball and launched a TD pass to, fittingly, Dumbauld, who’d swung out as a receiver. Junior running back Malik Sigg-Brown then plowed the two-pointer in, putting the Lions up 22-20 with 11:50 left in regulation.
“When a team that good is in here, there’s going to be a few mistakes here and there,” admitted Wayman (30-233 rushing; 4-of-6, 60 yards passing). “So we just put it in the past; we said, ‘Hey, we’ve got the next play.’ That’s exactly what we did.”
Overcoming an apparent calf cramp slowing him during the last minute of the third quarter, Medina (26-121 rushing) then led the Bluejays on a 10-play, 80-yard march capped by a 4-yard Wayman run with 7:09 to go. Wayman tacked on the two-pointer, regaining MHS a 28-22 lead which Gardner’s gang made sure wouldn’t again wither.
“Coming in, our plan was just: Power, power, power. That’s what we hang our hat on; we know if we can run it down the middle we can do whatever we want,” Wayman said. “So our game plan was just to run the rock, and it worked out for us.”
Lyons attempted a fake punt to prolong their next series, but Sigg-Brown was dropped well short of the first down by Mancos junior Kaiden Wyatt. Still not relenting, the Lions quickly regained possession when Dumbauld came down with a fourth-down Wayman lob meant for Medina. But after taking over at their own 11 with 3:20 left, the Lions’ fate was quickly sealed.
Vannest tackled Sigg-Brown for a short first-down gain, and on second, after Dumbauld had to throw under duress, Imel intercepted the pass in stride and returned it 21 yards – along LHS’ sideline, no less – for a touchdown with 2:41 left. Wayman’s two-point tote was successful, increasing MHS’ lead to 36-22.
“Broc had a shoulder injury for the majority of the year,” noted Gardner. “So how big is that for him to be able to get some games in, go deep into the playoffs … and then have a play like that?”
“Really, this game kind of went how we thought it was going to go,” he added. “We knew there were going to be a lot of big plays, but we just had to keep our composure and keep doing our jobs.”
And good only got better for the Bluejays; Sullivan fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Jacob Martin recovered at the Lions’ 14 with 2:34 remaining. Three plays later, Wayman barged into the end zone from nine yards out, and then flung the conversion pass to Vannest – swelling the lead to 44-22 with just 1:23 left.
Medina’s kickoff went through the end zone for a touchback, but after Lyons went back to work at their 20, the same gimmick play that had caught the Jays off-guard before, caught no one again napping and Medina picked off Johnson’s pass while barely in bounds at LHS’ 29 with 1:14 to go – and easily drained by two Wayman kneel-downs in ‘victory formation.’
“We had so much pressure on him,” Medina explained, “and he just threw it up and … I toe-tapped the sideline.”
“We knew they hadn’t played four quarters of real football; they’d been going through their schedule like clockwork, but we’ve had that hard schedule and know what it’s like to play four hard quarters,” he continued. “So we knew once we started going, we could break them … and we end up winning by 22!”
“It feels great,” said Martin. “Last year we were close (to reaching the State Championship), but we were getting better still. And it’s all paid off since we started working out and stuff during the summer. We’re a team, we’ve been through it all together, and we just know that with each other we can push through.”
Mancos will next meet 3-seed Haxtun (11-1 overall) in the final, set for 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24, inside CSU-Pueblo’s ThunderBowl. Avenging their loss to Simla in last season’s semis, Haxtun – the only squad to defeat MHS this fall – traveled south into Elbert County and eliminated the No. 2 Cubs (11-1) in the other 11/18 semifinal, 30-12.
The Fightin’ Bulldogs’ only loss, a 22-16 outcome, came in their Oct. 27 regular-season finale versus Merino.
“I like it,” Gardner said, of his Bluejays’ readiness for the highest-stakes rematch. “We’re going in with lots of confidence but we’ve got to take care of ourselves, do what we’ve been doing … not change too much, and play as a team.”