Throughout the week leading up to his team’s critical road matchup against Mancos on Nov. 6, Dove Creek football coach Shane Baughman preached the importance of form tackling, discipline and physicality.
Evidently, Baughman’s weeklong sermons paid dividends as his Bulldogs took to the field in Mancos on Friday night and smashed their way to an 18-14 victory over a Bluejays squad that entered the game as the fifth-ranked eight-man team in the state.
“We preached (physicality) all week,” Baughman said. “We’ve been preaching that (physicality) has been the difference between Mancos and Dove Creek. We wanted to match their physicality and our kids did that.”
Just how physical Dove Creek players would be was evident from the opening minutes of the first quarter during which junior defensive lineman Blaine Johnson tossed Mancos center Luika Cova 3 yards into the backfield before making a hard tackle.
Moments later, senior linebacker Hayden Gray put a crunching hit on Mancos ball carrier Christian Cova before rising to his feet and exchanging high-fives with several teammates who were energized by the sound of crunching pads.
“Our approach coming in was to come out with physicality and outdo them like that,” Dove Creek senior Gage Bailey said. “We wanted to play hard and fast like we usually do.”
Thanks to several hard-nosed plays by both sides, the opening quarter of the contest remained scoreless until Bulldogs senior quarterback Chorbin Cressler scored on a well-designed bootleg play around the left side to put his team ahead 6-0 with 58 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Mancos junior running back Chase Moore struck back with a 2-yard touchdown run of his own on the ensuing drive to make the score 6-6 with 6:55 left in the first half, and the score remained tied until Bailey scored on a 68-yard touchdown run with 1:13 left in the first half.
“Me and Chorbin (Cressler) and Gauge (Thompson) are a three-headed monster that can run,” said Bailey, who broke multiple tackles and outran several Mancos defenders during his long run. “We have a great line to follow behind, and we did this as a team.”
Trailing 12-6 heading into the halftime break, Mancos players listened to an inspiring halftime speech by coaches and benefited from a series of halftime adjustments that sought to put the ball in Moore’s hands open up the passing game.
Although the strategy appeared to be working when Moore broke came through with several first-down runs after receiving snaps out of the wildcat formation, a drop of a sure touchdown pass by Cova and multiple costly penalties stalled attempts by the Bluejays to even the score.
“I feel like we made a couple of mistakes in key moments,” Mancos coach Josh Gardner said. “You have to hand it to Dove Creek – they came off the ball hard, and they were fired up. I have a lot of respect for them and the way they played tonight.”
In spite of their mistakes, the Bluejays appeared poised to pick up a win when they pulled ahead 14-12 with 5:57 left in third quarter after a short touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversation by Moore.
The Bulldogs responded with an impressive drive however, which culminated with a 6-yard touchdown run by sophomore receiver Kade Hankins that came on a fourth-and-goal play with 11:39 left in the contest.
“It was an X-counter play,” said Hankins, describing his game-winning score. “The line did a great job of blocking there. It was all them.”
As the fourth quarter ticked away with Dove Creek leading 18-14, the Bluejays had opportunities to take the lead, yet were stymied when sophomore quarterback Ayden Mathews threw interceptions to Hankins and Cressler during the game’s final six minutes.
Moore’s inability to break away for long touchdown runs also seemed to rattle Mancos, which has become accustomed scoring several long touchdowns each game this season.
“Our defense played sound football,” Baughman said. “We really worked on wrapping up. That was one of the things that we didn’t do well last week against (Sanford). (Moore) is a great running back, so we just focused on tackling drills this week, and we came out and played disciplined football.”
“We just had to get our heads on straight and play our game,” said Cressler. “We wanted to keep our mouths closed and play our game.”
Now 4-1 on the season, Dove Creek will prepare for a home matchup against Norwood on Nov. 12. In the event that the Bulldogs win, they figure to be one of eight teams that qualify for the playoffs.
“We’ve got to get some pressure on Norwood quarterback (Tyler Wytulka) because he can throw the ball,” Baughman said. “Our defensive line has to get in the backfield and force some of his passes to go errant.”
“We need to not make mistakes and keep the ball off the ground,” Gardner said. “We had a couple of bad snaps and a couple of turnovers (against Dove Creek). If we can control the ball, we will be fine.”