Moffat County football moves to 3-0 with double overtime stunner
Perhaps it was a coincidence that the Bulldogs’ hardest-fought, most thrilling game this year came during Military Appreciation Night, but with red, white and blue decals on their helmets and camouflage jerseys, Moffat County High School athletes did the nation proud.
After two rounds of overtime, lots of penalties and plenty of big plays on both sides of the ball, MCHS emerged victorious in a 36-34 win over Battle Mountain for the Dogs’ home opener and their third consecutive W.
Making it all the more impressive was the fact that the majority of the MoCo score came in the second half in a massive comeback.
The Dogs’ opening drive started promisingly, making their way into their red zone, ready for a touchdown, only for quarterback Ryan Peck to be picked off by the Huskies with a return that made it all the way to Moffat 40.
Both defenses held the other at bay from there in a 0-0 first quarter, and the first points on the board were from the MCHS Bulldog D.
With about five minutes left in the first half, a coffin corner punt by Kevin Hernandez, the Huskies had little breathing room as they started their drive, and the Dogs weren’t planning to let up.
After backing Battle Mountain to the goal line, Moffat’s Joe Campagna tore past the line to whip QB Kai Haggen to the ground for the team’s third safety of the year and gain a 2-0 lead, a differential that seemed small at the time but would ultimately impact the rest of the night.
“Our defense is our key, we’ve grown so much with that,” Campagna said.
After a fumble recovery granted him a huge touchdown last week against Steamboat Springs, Campagna said it comes down to one idea in the moment.
“I just think, ‘gotta get the ball,'” he said.
After the play, Haggen needed help off the field, replaced by Liam Mattison, and the Huskies weren’t happy about losing their starter.
Promptly after Battle Mountain punted, Peck was intercepted by Parker Lutz, while Husky rush leader Hezekiah Gongaware scooted past the Bulldogs for a 49-yard score, the Bulldog lead lasting less than a minute.
Gongaware showed he was as much of a threat on the other side of the ball when late in the half he snagged a pass by Peck and ran it all the way back from 60 yards for the pick-six, the PAT good to make it 14-2 at the break.
A frustrated Bulldog squad came back on the field ready to show they still had fight left. The battle of the defenses continued throughout the third quarter until the MoCo offense started clicking as Peck whipped a 15-yard pass to Kameron Baker deep in the end zone for the touchdown on 4th and 10, though an interception on the pass for the conversion kept it at 14-8.
The Huskies were nonetheless shaken, and one bad snap after another gave it back to the Bulldogs in prime position. A slow but steady surge up the field let Peck run it in from one yard to close the period ahead 15-14 after the successful kick.
Battle Mountain’s Anthony Sanchez was looking to stay even in yardage with Gongaware, and a 24-yard sweep let him score his first TD, with the Huskies adding the twofer to make it 22-15 with about 10 minutes left.
A costly Bulldog fumble in their own territory looked like the night would belong to Battle Mountain, yet MoCo denied the Huskies much progress, despite eating up plenty of time.
From their own 14-yard line, the Dogs put together their best drive of the night, with Peck targeting Dario Alexander and Kevin Hernandez with passes that gained nearly 50 yards combined before Alexander gained the TD with a 44-yard reception.
Peck split the uprights again to tie it at 22 with four minutes remaining.
Each side tightened up on their containment as the possibility of overtime loomed, with the Bulldog secondary breaking up the Husky pass attempt in the red zone, Battle Mountain responding by keeping the Dogs at midfield.
Once the clock ran out, teams set up for the OT format — four downs for each team from 10 yards out to put up points, whether by rush, pass or field goal.
The Huskies had the first attempt, with Sanchez finding a defensive gap to run it in from five yards on the second down, though MCHS players bulldozed the offensive line afterward to block the kick.
The Dogs kept their crowd on their edge of their seats, with a rush by Hernandez nearly ending the game as a fumble was recovered by the Huskies — yet negated by a facemask call — a pass to Baker falling apart and another rush going nowhere to put it at 4th and 11.
With one shot left, Peck threaded the needle to Alexander for the TD to make it 28-all.
The home team’s excitement was explosive but short-lived, as Peck lined up for the PAT, only to be blocked for the first time this season as the Huskies returned the favor from earlier.
A second overtime saw the refs place the ball at the south end zone this time, where the MoCo student section had relocated from the bleachers.
Bulldogs had the first opportunity to make something happen, and again the first three downs amounted to little, with a sack of Peck again making the situation 4th and long.
This time, the team kept it on the ground with an improvised reverse — Peck handed off to Hernandez who pitched to Alexander, who charged in to score his third TD of the evening.
“That was supposed to be a reverse pass, but I don’t know why he didn’t throw it, didn’t feel comfortable, so he just tucked it and ran with it,” head coach Jamie Nelson said. “The hard part of that is when you have a small end zone like that.”
The high stakes in both instances made for some anxiety, Alexander said, though he also knew he had to finish what the group started.
“It was a team effort, it wasn’t just me,” he said. “It was everyone fighting, everyone picking it up, everyone elevating on the team. It was a little nerve-wracking, but I trust my family and they trust me, so I did what had to be done.”
With the student section going nuts, Hernandez practically sprinted over the goal line for the two-point conversion.
“That energy was so much better down on that side,” he said of his fellow pupils. “It was such a good ball game.”
The pressure on the visitors, Sanchez again was able to get the six points on a short run, yet the Huskies’ attempt to force a triple OT didn’t happen as the Dogs shut down the rush effort after Sanchez took a shotgun snap.
Before he was certain his team had the win, Nelson was restraining players from running onto the field to celebrate, though he was more than happy to apologize in the post-game huddle.
“As a football program, you saw it out there, we’re growing up,” Nelson said. “It took us a while to get there, but we figured it out.”
Even if the turnovers mucked up his QB rating, Peck had his best game to date in total passing yardage, with 214, going 16 for 35 in accuracy, as well as 25 in rushing.
Alexander had seven receptions for 124 yards, plus 19 rushing, whereas Hernandez had 20 carries for 33 yards on the ground plus four grabs in the air for 46, while Ethan Hafey had two receptions for 21.
On defense, Campagna, Hafey and Chris Sanderson combined for three sacks, with Hafey leading the tackle tally with 12, followed by 11 for Campagna and 10 by Taran Teeter.
Though it was the first week without any Bulldog interceptions, Daniel Cruz came up with a fumble recovery in the Dogs’ only turnover.
The 3-0 record for Moffat County is the first time the Bulldogs have had such a start since 2009, and they don’t intend to slow down as they host Pagosa Springs Saturday, Sept. 28.
“Two games in a row, that’s back-to-back weeks, but three games in a row, that’s a streak,” Nelson said.