The long wait is over. Durango High School is going to the state championship game.
For the first time since 1988, the Demons will get to play for a title after they defeated Holy Family 34-14 on Saturday afternoon at Michael G. Gabriel Stadium in Broomfield.
No. 3 Durango (7-0) played in its first state semifinal since 1997. The 350-mile road trip ended with a joyous celebration after the Durango defense largely silenced the No. 2 Tigers (7-1) while the offense pounded the football for 360 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
“This means everything to us. This has been our goal since third grade for us seniors. To finally achieve this, to get here and be one game away from winning state, it means everything,” DHS senior quarterback and safety Jordan Woolverton said. “We want to put a good name on Durango because we love our town and our fans. We are ready to get to work and go get it next week and hopefully win this one for our town.”
Woolverton had another big game for the Demons. He rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns, and he went 7-of-14 passing for 86 yards and another touchdown. While his passing yardage was well below average, he routinely put beautiful passes deep down the field while his receivers struggled to bring in the receptions.
It was no matter to the Demons, as they continued to make big plays on the ground with an average of 8.18 yards per carry behind its elite offensive line of Nathan Howland, Rocco Estes, Joshua Bates, Walter Stauffer and Ethan Ryan.
That unit outplayed a Holy Family offensive line that boasted Boise State commit Cord Kringlen, standing at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, as well as Jacob Barry, a 6-7, 320-pound junior nicknamed “The Mountain.” Barry went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. Though he would return to the game, he was noticeably hobbled and slowed the rest of the game.
“It was insane. Our line did everything,” said DHS senior Ben Finneseth, who rushed for 151 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown. “It was a line battle, and we knew it was going to be a line battle. Our guys took over and won. It was awesome.”
Durango’s defense allowed only one Holy Family first down in the entire first half, and it came with two minutes to go in the second quarter. The Tigers amassed only 25 yards of offense in the half, including only 11 yards rushing. In the game, Holy Family rushed for only 45 yards on 19 attempts. The Tigers had averaged 210.4 rushing yards in seven games coming into Saturday.
“We came together with a game plan to stop their run and put our cornerbacks out there on an island, and they did such an amazing job,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “We told our guys they had to get off the ball first and strike them first. Our style of defense is to attack, and I am proud of how we did that. We’re not scared on defense. We don’t care if you have a big running back or big linemen, we’re going to attack you.”
Durango held Holy Family quarterback Michael White to 3-of-13 passing for 24 yards and an interception in the first half. He bounced back in the second half to finish 10-of-30 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
DHS senior linebacker Kyler Reimers hit White on a third-down pass on Holy Family’s first series, and the Tigers’ offense heard footsteps coming the rest of the game.
“It feels great when you get that first good shot. Then, they are intimidated of you and don’t want to get hit again,” Reimers said. “They scramble and feel rushed in the pocket, and then it gives our secondary chances. This defense had a great week of practice and worked hard together. We all did our techniques and responsibilities and did pretty good out there today on defense.”
Holy Family elected to kick the ball away to start the game. Durango would march 80 yards in 12 plays with two third-and-long conversions as well as a fourth-down conversion. The drive ended with a 14-yard TD run by senior Gage Mestas on a play that had the Holy Family defense confused. Durango led 7-0 with 6:13 to go in the first quarter.
“Their sideline called out a pass play, but I had the ball running it,” Mestas said. “I saw our line pushing them up the field, and we had a full advantage. I took what they gave me, and they had no clue what was going on.”
DHS would lead 7-0 after one quarter despite moving the ball well and not allowing an inch to Holy Family’s offense. The Demons would finally strike again when Finneseth ran 40 yards up the middle of the field and sprinted past the two safeties to score on a one-play drive. That made it 14-0 Demons with nine minutes to play in the first half.
“It felt amazing to be in the open field,” Finneseth said. “I feel so free and can make any moves. My guys up front make the holes for me, and then I can go and finish it.”
Durango would get the ball right back on an interception by Woolverton on the Holy Family 20-yard line. He returned it to the 14. Three plays later, he would score on an 8-yard touchdown run off the right side. He was patient to wait for blocks to set up, but then he willed his way into the end zone as he ran behind his pads through contact and over the goal line.
“It felt so good to get a little more of a lead there,” Woolverton said of his score that made it 21-0 with six minutes to go in the first half. “On the interception, their quarterback overthrew his guy a bit, and I was in the right position to jump in and get it.”
DHS would take that 21-0 lead into halftime, though the Demons felt like they could have been up by five or six scores had a few big catches been made.
Holy family came out of halftime and executed a strong drive all the way inside the Durango 20-yard line for the first time in the game. But the Demons made a few big stops to create a fourth down. Reimers then would sack White for a huge loss on fourth down to create a turnover on downs and get the Demons the ball back on their own 27.
“That felt great. I knew that was a big play in the game that I had to make,” Reimers said. “I didn’t think I could get him at first. But I saw him, grabbed on and held on for dear life until we were both on the ground.”
Durango marched right down the field and scored on a 42-yard TD pass from Woolverton to Mestas, who fought through contact and hauled in the ball in the end zone for a huge Demons score.
“I knew (Woolverton) was going to leave it in a perfect spot to me,” Mestas said. “It was a great throw, and he had great throws the entire game. He is such a leader on this team and makes all the plays. He’s a playmaker.”
Holy Family would finally get on the board on a six-play, 80-yard drive in response to the Mestas TD reception. White passed for 73 yards on the drive and capped it off with a 15-yard TD pass to Oscar Sena. That cut Durango’s lead to 28-7 with 30 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Durango would turn the ball over on downs on the Holy Family 32-yard line on its next possession. DHS looked to have a big defensive stop on a fourth down pass play. Ean Goodwin had perfect coverage on his receiver and a well-timed pass breakup. But the referees called a pass interference on Goodwin to extend the Tigers’ drive. On another fourth down White hit Sena on a 26-yard pass down to the Durango 2-yard line. Two plays later, White found Liam Gray on a 4-yard TD pass, as Gray fought for control of the ball with Goodwin and was able to secure it as the two players tumbled out of bounds tussling for possession. That got Holy Family within 28-14 with 5:51 to play in the game.
Holy Family would try an onside kick, but Durango was able to control it on the sideline on its own 45-yard line. Two plays later, Woolverton was off to the races on a 53-yard TD run up the left sideline.
“We were getting a little nervous once they started being able to drive on us. To get that long run there to ice the game, that felt so good,” Woolverton said. “We get behind our front five on crucial plays. As long as we have those guys to run behind, we always feel confident.”
The extra point was pushed a little right, but Durango’s lead was 34-14 and would hold up for the final score, as Finneseth was able to intercept White one more time to allow Durango to run out the clock to end the game.
“To secure the win at the end, that felt awesome,” Finneseth said. “The fact we got to play this fall during COVID-19 this has meant everything to us. We’ve wanted this for a year, all summer, all fall. To finally get here and be able to play in a state championship with a bunch of guys I love, it’s incredible. We have never taken it for granted. The love we have on this team is unmatched.”
DHS will take on No. 1 Roosevelt (7-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl for the Class 3A state championship. Roosevelt beat No. 4 Pueblo South 49-19 in the other semifinal Saturday in Johnstown.
The game will be played without fans in attendance because of guidelines in place by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. Saturday’s semifinal in Broomfield had 75 Durango fans allowed into the stadium.
Durango doesn’t care how it has to get done. It simply wants to win a state championship. The Demons have one state title in school history. It came in 1954 when the Demons tied Lamar 7-7 in the Class A title game. There was no overtime in 1954, and the teams were declared co-champions.
“We’ve been so close the last couple of years,” Vogt said. “It’s been one play here or there for us to not be able to go to state. For us to finally do it, it makes all the hard work worth it.
“There is no question our guys will take this next week serious. The kids are all talking to each other about being safe and doing things right, just as they have done all season. This team truly is a family. The kids love each other, and the coaches love the kids. We play hard for each other, and that’s the key to great teams.”