Moffat County boys bark back at critics with Bulldog basketball’s win over Cowboys
“What’s the score gonna be?”
“How much you gonna lose by?”
At two wins and three straight losses out of a total six, the Moffat County High School boys basketball team’s early season didn’t win them a great deal of confidence from the student body going into their first game of 2020.
However, by the end of the night Friday, the Bulldog student section had to be restrained from the court to celebrate as MCHS guys broke their cold streak and shut down a team whose record made for a daunting entry into 3A Western Slope League play.
MoCo hoopsters had a rocky road throughout their game with Gunnison, but Bulldogs came back in the final minutes to upset the Cowboys 65-61.
The first few minutes of the match was largely even, as the owners of the home hardwood and their visitors each struggled in shooting accuracy. Trailing 10-8, the Dogs’ deficit grew quickly as a nine-point run by Cowboys Braden Wood and Hunter Wood ended the first period ahead 19-8.
Gunnison’s momentum slowed drastically in the second quarter, however, as a missed dunk attempt didn’t help their effort.
A timeout with about four minutes left in the half led to a reinvigoration for MoCo, with Myles Simpson adding five quick points, including the team’s first triple of the night.
Ryan Peck’s work beneath the rim helped add to the scoreboard, as did three-pointers by Wesley Counts and Jerod Chacon, though a long buzzer-beater by Gunnison kept their lead at 29-23 at intermission.
Slowly but surely
Back on the floor after the break, both teams again took their time getting in a groove offensively, with plenty of third quarter shots bouncing off the iron on either end.
And, just as Jordan Carlson, Landen Najera and Simpson strung together a seven-point streak to get to within a gap of four points — 38-34 — the Cowboys did the same, capped off by an outside shot by Geoff McDougal that made the Gunnison lead 45-34 heading into the fourth.
McDougal sank another three to start the last eight minutes, but from there, the comeback began.
A pair of free throws by Chris Maneotis got the ball rolling, while Peck took a charge call in his favor that rattled opponents.
The two Bulldogs played smartly on inbounds beneath their bucket, as well, with Peck bouncing a pass off the back of Pascual Lerma to set himself up for a potential two points, while Maneotis zipped a high pass to Najera from the baseline with no hesitation.
“We studied their film for hours and ran through everything and knew who we needed to stop,” Maneotis said.
A seven-point streak by the Dogs got them within three points at 57-54, and a big block by Carlson of Aidan Hulbert only enhanced the home energy as the Bulldog defense relegated Gunnison to foul shots from there.
Credit where credit’s due
The MCHS student section got increasingly jazzed as Chacon and Simpson put up inside points to cut the difference to a single point at 61-60, but a three-pointer by Maneotis resulted in a deafening response with 19 seconds remaining.
Though outside shots aren’t his usual expertise, Maneotis said he noticed the Cowboys putting more pressure on Simpson, leading him to take his chances to surprise them.
“I stepped in and hit it, but I feel like the real player that was overlooked tonight was Wesley Counts,” Maneotis said. “He worked his tail off tonight, probably had about six assists, and at the end of the night, he saw how things were going and said, ‘Coach, I don’t think I can go back in.’ That’s something we really need, because he was really a team player and really contributed.”
Maneotis noted that Gunnison’s reputation had fellow students doubting him and his teammates leading up to game time with some arguably friendly yet less-than-supportive taunts.
“All week all throughout the school it was, ‘How much you gonna lose by?’ We told them, ‘We’ll see. We’re gonna come out and play.’ And we came out and did it,” he said. “We knew we could do it.”
With the Cowboys frazzled, the remaining seconds got frantic with a missed triple and a sudden skirmish for the ball that resulted in a technical foul and let Najera go to the line with less than two seconds left.
A two-point lead — 63-61 — wasn’t enough, the Moffat County senior knew, and though anxiety was working against him, he took a moment to steady himself.
“I knew we’d at least go into overtime, so I made the first one, but after I made that, I was getting really nervous,” he said. “I looked to the sidelines and saw my mom, my dad, my family and my girlfriend, and they made me calm. Then I looked to the bench and saw my family and my team and knew what I had to do.”
With both buckets sunk — adding to a 31-point final quarter for the Dogs — and little time left for Gunnison to return the favor, Najera was the last to touch the ball as he caught the rock on a desperate heave by the Cowboys.
And, from there, the student section could no longer be held back at the buzzer to celebrate the victory.
With three triples and 17 total points, Simpson led the team in scoring with Najera close behind at 14, Carlson with 10, Maneotis nine, Peck seven, Chacon five and Counts three.
“It was really a team effort; my team got me some open shots, I got myself some, but I was really just taking what I could once we got on fire and had a flow going,” Simpson said. “We didn’t quit, and that’s why we won. Our coaches have been pushing every day in practice. To come out here and prove to everyone that we’re not who they think we are is just a big statement.”
The win put the Bulldogs at 3-6 overall and 1-0 to start the conference schedule as they look to keep the mojo the same for Saturday afternoon’s home game against Olathe.
“That’s why you work hard all preseason,” said head coach Steve Maneotis. “These kids have a lot of heart, and we’ve been beat around and been disrespected, nobody thinks we can do this, but now we’ve got to come back and do it again.”