Bulldog brotherhood: Moffat County football players, coaches reflect on season of surprises
With a smooth start, a rocky road midway through and a finish that was their most trying game yet this year, it’s been a varied season for Moffat County High School football.
Yet, through it all, they’ve had each other.
The 2A CHSAA playoffs began and ended all in one day for the Bulldogs, as they moved to 5-5 overall with a 56-14 road loss across the state in Sterling.
Though they’ve put in the work this year, players and coaches knew the 10th game of the year — their first entry into the postseason since 2015 — would be all the more difficult.
The first month of the fall was one of the best Bulldog ball has seen in more than a decade, with three straight wins over 3A teams — Summit, Steamboat Springs, Battle Mountain — as well as a defeat of fellow 2A playoff contender Pagosa Springs to go to 4-0 for the non-conference schedule.
But, they weren’t the only ones to be undefeated at that point, as all four 2A schools with no losses were in the same neck of the woods, the Dogs on the same footing as Western Slope League teams Rifle, Basalt and Delta.
Defeats to all three — plus Aspen — wreaked havoc on MoCo’s record but the slide in the RPI standings was much less damaging, and even though they were fifth in the league compared to the 4-5 Skiers, it was MCHS that made the cut for playoffs, though they were the only ones in the conference to be eliminated after one game.
With eight Saturday games, seven saw hosting teams get the W — Delta’s 44-0 destruction of Pagosa the biggest margin and Faith Christian’s 8-0 squeaker over Elizabeth the smallest — yet the lone lower seed victory belonged to Basalt.
The ninth-seeded Longhorns rode a 13-7 halftime lead through a scoreless second half to beat The Classical Academy, No. 8.
Basalt will be battling in the quarterfinals in familiar territory, a rematch against Rifle, the only 10-0 team in 2A, the No. 1 seed easily besting the visiting Englewood Pirates 48-15.
The test of temerity among WSL foes is one that made for rough going for the Bulldogs in recent weeks, yet it’s what also made them tougher.
“It’s tough, because we’re seeing the quality of play at the playoffs. It’s a learning experience, because we had the Western Slope and then on the Eastern plains we can see where everybody’s at,” he said.
Following the Sterling game, Bulldog coaches emphasized for players how much they’ve grown over the year.
Lance Scranton noted that continuing to build a football culture is an ongoing project with the players who were on the field for the final game an indicator of a willingness to work.
“You guys put everything you can into what you’re doing,” he said.
Likewise, Kip Hafey said that even if the scoreboard was lopsided, the Dogs should still count themselves among the upper echelon of 2A ball.
“There are 30 other schools that would love to be playing today, and they all sat at home today,” Hafey said. “You’re in the toughest league in the state, but you fought tooth and nail, and you earned the right to be here. Nobody gave it to you, you earned it.”
A final match that saw an array of highlights by freshmen and sophomores — including Cort Murphy stepping in at quarterback, Evan Atkin leading in rushing yardage, Izzac Pierce teaming with Tanner Zimmerman on a sack, and Jayce Christopher nabbing a last-minute interception — showed the future of Bulldog football is bright, though having a more extensive roster in coming years can only help.
“It’s good to see our young guys getting after it. We had a bunch of guys who stepped in and stepped up, and that’s all you can ask. That’s how you evolve as a program — next guy up, see what you can do,” coach Nelson said. “Our seniors gave us everything they had, underclassmen stepped up, filled those key roles, it’s tough. The guys played their tails off. We were the smallest team on the field every game we played, not always the fastest, but they always played hard. They represented Moffat County well. Just hope to get our numbers up next year. There’s guys in Craig, it’s just a matter of getting them out for the team.”
The final game hit MoCo seniors harder than anyone Saturday, with Riley Floyd Nelson, Keaton Durbin, Kameron Baker, Dagan White and Dario Alexander trying to hide misty eyes.
Despite coming off the field with pain in his shoulder, Alexander was grateful that he was able to not only get back into the mix but get the Dogs on the board in the second quarter with a big touchdown catch off Murphy.
“That was unexpected, but I’m glad it happened,” he said. “I’m glad I got to play with this team. I hope they’re ready to elevate for next year.”
Baker noted that he was pleased with the level of bonding the team had without a hierarchy of seniors pulling rank.
“Team camaraderie was a lot better. In the past, seniors kind of treated underclassmen like underclassmen,” he said. “We treated it more like a brotherhood this year. There were freshmen picking on seniors, that’s how much of a brotherhood it was. I think that’s what pushed us from being a mediocre team to being a good team.”