MANCOS – Next man up. It’s been the motto for the Bluejays all season.
That vision has Mancos moving to the next level up – a third consecutive state semifinal appearance.
After losing star senior running back Levi Martin to injury on the first offensive snap of the game, the Bluejays would have their mettle tested against a program that knows a whole lot about how to win in the postseason.
Facing No. 9 seed Sedgwick County (6-5) – a program that won a state-record six consecutive 8-man titles from 2015 through 2020 – Mancos (10-1) brought their physicality to another level in a dominating 38-0 blanking of the Cougars on Bluejay Field.
The Bluejays stopped Sedgwick County on fourth down seven times, most of which with the Cougars driving into Mancos territory, while senior Kail Wayman collected two interceptions as part of a complete defensive effort.
Meanwhile, after a slow start on offense, Mancos started to move the ball in the second quarter, scoring twice in quick succession to build a 16-0 halftime lead, before grinding out long methodical drives in the second half to put the game away.
For a second straight week in the playoffs, five different Bluejays found the end zone – three coming off TD passes from Wayman.
Junior Kaiden Wyatt enjoyed a productive day on both sides of the ball, wreaking havoc in the Cougar backfield while also scoring the game’s first points on a 37-yard catch-and-run on the opening play of the second quarter.
Wyatt joined senior Cole Dainty-Guilfoyle, sophomore Jacob Martin, and junior Brandon Vannest across a defensive front that kept a vaunted Sedgwick ground game under wraps. Four stops on fourth down in the first half alone preserved the lead, including one right after the game’s first touchdown that set up the Jays with an opportunity to strike quickly.
“We were able to attack, especially with the defensive linemen being able to stand their ground,” said Wyatt of the defensive effort, “they (Sedgwick County) were trying to double team the front side, so Chris (Medina) and the linebackers were able to get back there – they played it perfectly.”
“Watching film, we learned that if we got down with the linebackers, that’d be the way we’d be able to stop them,” added Medina, “so we went out and did our job.”
“When Kaiden had his hand in the dirt (as a down lineman), he was doing really well,” said sixth-year head coach Josh Gardner, who picked up his 50th head coaching victory, “and our linebackers read the plays well. We had a slow start, but when your defense is playing shutout football, it was only a matter of time before we’d get going.”
A big pass play to senior Andrew Jaime put the Bluejays deep into Cougar territory, and senior Chris Medina capped the drive with a burst from 23 yards to the house with eight minutes left in the half.
“We’re so much of a threat on the ground, that after awhile the other team has their eyes in the backfield,” said Wayman. “It gives our tight ends an opportunity to get behind the defense – and they do a good job finding space – I can always look down there and at least one guy is open.”
Mancos added scores in the third quarter, with Jaime finding the end zone on a 23-yard grab to cap a five-plus minute drive to open the third quarter, before Wayman used his legs from 54 yards out to build a 30-0 lead. Offensive linemen sophomores Adam Martinez and Colten Vannest, along with seniors Elliott Sam and Dainty-Guilfoyle really gained traction in the second quarter, allowing Wayman, Medina and sophomore Jonah Ritter – who stepped into Martin’s shoes on both sides of the ball – to gash the defense for bigger gains.
“We faced some adversity from the beginning with the loss of Levi,” said Medina, “but we got together and said ‘we’ve gotta go right through’ and started to get going in the second quarter. The O-line makes our job easy – we just have to follow behind them.”
“They (the offensive line) are able to get to their linebackers at the next level, and that just opens up everything,” commented Wyatt on the continued strength in the trenches for the Jays.
“Jonah filled in tremendously for us,” added Gardner, “that ‘next man up’ mentality really worked for us.”
Vannest snagged a nine-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring, all while the defense continued to turn away any momentum from the visitors, as Mancos extended their shut out streak to 20 consecutive quarters.
“Defense wins championships,” said Wayman, “and every day we come out with the intention that the other team is not going to score – it starts with the weight training to make sure they can’t push us around – and it’s something we hang our hat on.”
Up next, Mancos hosts No. 4 Lyons (11-0) on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. with the winner moving on to the state championship game the following weekend in Pueblo. Local broadcast coverage of the contest will begin at 12:30 p.m. on 98.7 FM KRTZ and krtzradio.com.