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Mancos fumbles opener against Plateau Valley

Turnovers and penalties hurt Blue Jays in 12-8 loss

The Mancos Blue Jays’ first five offensive possessions last Friday against the Plateau Valley Cowboys ended as follows: Interception, punt, interception, punt, fumble.

It was less than ideal to start the 2016 season, but the Jays’ defense did its part to hold the Cowboys from capitalizing in the first quarter.

But after picking off Mancos senior Riley Burton on the Jays’ first drive of the second quarter, the Cowboys put together a 29-yard scoring drive to take a 6-0 lead.

Mancos responded later in the second by capitalizing on advantageous field possession, taking over on the Plateau Valley 12-yard line after a punt return by Richard Martinez and then two Plateau Valley penalties tacked on extra yardage.

From there, it took Bowen Strazza-Whalen just one play – a dive up the middle – to knot the score at six. After Axel Bonde tacked on the two-point conversion the home team led 8-6, and the score would hold until halftime.

Plateau Valley struck again on the second play of the third quarter, as senior quarterback Marlon Castillo found a hole and tore down the right sideline for a 64-yard touchdown to put the Cowboys back on top, 12-8.

The Mancos defensive line was stout up front, holding the Cowboys’ other three rushers to just 41 total yards in the contest. But Castillo had the speed to get the corner, and he torched the Jays to the tune of 17 carries for 142 yards.

“I think that their quarterback is a great player and he hurt us on defense,” coach Josh Gardner said after the game. “They would spread us out and they would give that quarterback the ball and it was hard for us to stop him from getting that first down.”

The Jays fumbled again on the ensuing possession, but even after five turnovers in the contest, they were still within striking distance in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, thanks in part to their defense.

Mancos was loose with the rock on offense, but they also managed four takeaways from the visitors. Freshman Breccen Morelli recovered a fumble in the second quarter, junior Kaleb Hargraves pulled in an interception and senior Richard Martinez came up with two picks.

So, with less than four minutes remaining and taking possession at their own 35-yard line, the Mancos Blue Jays were poised for a game-winning drive.

They were trailing 12-8 as the clock dwindled, but behind a fresh-looking offensive line, Bonde and Strazza-Whalen continued to pick up chunks at a time. So, the Jays kept feeding them.

“I felt like our power and our sweep were working,” said Gardner. “We wanted to stick with something that was working. Anytime we tried to change things up a little bit it wasn’t working, so we were trying to go with the safe bets.”

The Jays grinded out two consecutive first downs to set themselves up at the Plateau Valley 40-yard line with two minutes remaining.

Bonde gained five yards on the first play of the new set, but the next rushing attempts by Strazza-Whalen and Bonde produced little, forcing a fourth down with five yards to go with a minute left.

In the do-or-die situation, the Jays were forced to go to the air. As Hargraves and Griff Huver streaked downfield, the Cowboys defense was bearing down on Burton, and the final pass attempt was just high and incomplete.

Taking over with 51 seconds remaining, Plateau Valley kneeled out the clock to win, 12-8.

The Blue Jays will look to bounce back from their opening loss on Friday in an away contest against Shiprock Northwest at 7 p.m.

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