Hot win on a cold night: Moffat County football crunches Coal Ridge
Whatever happens from here, it’s officially a winning season for Moffat County High School football.
The Bulldog gridiron gang moved to 5-2 Friday night with their last home game of the regular season, a 27-20 win against the Coal Ridge Titans.
Clad in pink stockings for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Bulldogs took the field ready to rumble, but first things first was the Senior Night ceremony.
The Moffat County program saluted six upperclassman as Kevin Hernandez, Kameron Baker, Dagan White, Dario Alexander, Keaton Durbin and Riley Nelson were joined by family members to commemorate their final year of high school football.
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The pre-game sentiment quickly turned into hard-nosed competition upon kickoff, with the Titans receiving to start.
A Coal Ridge fumble on their opening drive complete with a Chris Sanderson recovery at midfield set a solid tone that the Dogs built upon as quarterback Ryan Peck winged it to Alexander to get them within the Titan 20.
From there, it looked like the turnover-heavy Homecoming game a week earlier was repeating itself — the Dogs fumbled twice and Coal Ridge once more as neither team could score in the first quarter.
However, it was the Titans who got the initial notch on the scoreboard when Karsen DuBois launched his longest pass of the season to Colby Hoffman, deep in the Bulldog secondary, for nearly 50 yards and the touchdown midway through the second period.
The MoCo response was swift and more than a little surprising for the crowd.
While Hernandez continued grinding coming out of the Bulldog backfield, it was Peck who burst through the Titan D-line, sprinting 32 yards and flopping over the goal line.
A failed fake kick by the Dogs on the extra point left it at 7-6, but DuBois was promptly picked off by Taran Teeter as Coal Ridge geared up again. Starting from the Titan 35, MoCo ran it in again with a draw play by Hernandez from 10 yards, though Donnie Quick’s sweep for two points was stopped just short to make it 12-7.
With time running short in the half, DuBois connected repeatedly with Kobe Wild to get Coal Ridge within one yard of the end zone. A handoff to big man Damian Spell let them score again to make it 14-12 at halftime.
That was the last lead the Titans would see.
The Dogs took in the kick for the second half, and a drive that took about five minutes ended with Hernandez fighting his way over the line on fourth and inches. A slant pass to Alexander on the conversion made it 20-14.
The Titans had some tricks up their sleeves as a QB sneak by DuBois caught the Dogs off-guard for a huge gain that set up Coal Ridge for their third TD, gained by Spell from seven yards.
However, their hopes of pushing past Moffat County to retake the lead faded away quickly when White leapt in front of the PAT kick trajectory like Superman in front of a bullet. The deflection kept the score tied at 20.
A new drive began slowly as Peck sent a pass to Ethan Hafey in the flat formation that nearly got picked off. Even so, Peck went to Hafey again on the next play, floating a pass over his shoulder.
Though it was an awkward throw, Hafey not only pulled it in but evaded Titan tackles left and right to go all the way for a 78-yard TD reception, the longest of the year for the team.
Uncannily enough, the play was a near-repeat of the Dogs’ 2018 away game against Coal Ridge when Alexander got the same yardage and season best for the go-ahead score.
The fourth quarter wasn’t kind to either offense as Coal Ridge continued to get shut down by the Bulldog D only to have a hint of redemption when Moffat County’s third red zone fumble of the night gave the Titans the pigskin with ample time remaining.
Still, a drive that got to the very edge of Bulldog territory would go no further as DuBois stuck with big pass attempts. A Hail Mary on fourth down was no good, allowing Peck to take a knee to end the evening.
In a night of new bests, Peck had his biggest rushing effort to date with multiple scrambles to confuse the Titan defense, with 82 yards on the ground. And, while it didn’t add much to his numbers, a highlight moment on special teams saw him slide to hit the grass hard after a Bulldog punt to down the ball at Coal Ridge’s 1-yard line.
Though it wasn’t Peck’s finest showing in terms of throwing accuracy — six for 19 — his receivers made the catches count as he finished with 163 passing yards, including Ethan Hafey’s 97 on three grabs, 32 for Alexander, 28 for Baker and six for White.
The total for the night puts Peck just under 900 yards for the season.
The run game was still primarily owned by Hernandez, with 124 yards on 25 carries — his longest of the night for 17 — to edge past 700 for the year.
On defense, Teeter terrorized the Titans with 17 total tackles, including his interception with a 12-yard return and a recovery of a fumble that was forced by Joe Campagna, who followed in the tackle count with 13, as well as 1.5 sacks. Nine tackles went to Logan Hafey, with eight by White.
Combining with Campagna on a QB bringdown, Durbin was more than pleased with his performance for the night with seven tackles, even when it looked like things weren’t going his way.
“When I blew coverage, my guy got the ball, but I still got there to tackle him,” Durbin said.
The win over 1-6 Coal Ridge ensures Moffat County will finish above a .500 winning percentage for the regular season, not to mention keeping the possibility alive for a potential playoff berth.
Even with the close tally and a few more mistakes than he’d like — particularly on the multiple occasions when the team was in prime scoring position — head coach Jamie Nelson was still pleased with the final outcome.
“A win is a win, and you take every one you can get,” he said.
But, before the Dogs can think too much about their first time entering the postseason since 2015, they’ll have to complete the 2A Western Slope League schedule with upcoming games against Delta and Rifle.
The Bears remain the only undefeated 2A team after slaughtering the Skiers in Aspen, 48-0.
At 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the conference, Rifle looks more than likely to defend its league title when they face Basalt Oct. 25. The Longhorns experienced their first defeat of the season in a 35-6 loss Friday to Delta, with both teams now 6-1, 2-1 WSL.
The Panthers host the Bulldogs in a rare Thursday game — the reason being officials’ schedules — as MoCo players and coaches anticipate some tough competition.
“Delta’s a solid team, and we have to bring our best game. Our kids are fired up, and a win there is definitely gonna help our chances of getting into the playoffs,” Nelson said. “We’re gonna have to bring every aspect — offense, defense, special teams — and execute at a very high level.”
Though athletes have known all season that Delta and Rifle will be some of their most fearsome foes, they also refuse to let it stunt them mentally.
“I feel like we can play with them,” Hernandez said. “It’s just gonna be a battle.”
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