Moffat County football refuses to quit in injury-laden playoff game with Sterling
STERLING — Though clear skies and a relaxing breeze were prevalent on the Eastern plains of Colorado, the situation was anything but tranquil on the field of the Sterling Tigers, as the visiting Moffat County High School Bulldogs hit the turf to kick off the opening round of the 2A CHSAA state football playoffs.
The hardest-hitting game the Dogs have seen all season resulted in a 56-14 defeat at the hands of the Tigers, ranked second in the 2A field to give them hosting duties against MoCo.
Moffat County’s plans to gain solid footing with a starting drive that ended in the end zone didn’t quite turn out that way.
The opening kick was fielded by the Dogs, and a reverse to Joe Campagna on the return got them a respectable distance, moving all the way to their 40-yard line.
But, the Sterling defense was more than prepared on pass coverage, and quarterback Ryan Peck was intercepted on the first play of the game. The Tigers scored in seconds off a 31-yard pass with less than a minute off the clock.
Sterling promptly made it a two-score game as Peck was picked off again, with the result being an interception return touchdown to make it 14-0.
On the Dogs’ third attempt to get going on offense, Peck zipped it to Dagan White for their first time moving the chains, and though they had to punt, a good boot from Ethan Hafey put the pigskin at the Tigers’ 11.
Sterling wasn’t the least bit daunted — QB Brock Shalla bombed it downfield to Tucker Myers, who gained 89 yards and the TD on the reception as the Tigers moved to 21-0 with less than five minutes of game action.
Another Bulldog drive went haywire as Dario Alexander was taken off the field momentarily on the kick return, while a bad snap pushed the Dogs to their own 3.
Another faulty snap hurt even more on the punt attempt as Hafey was smothered by Sterling defenders in the end zone for the safety.
The Dog defense slowed the Tigers somewhat from there, yet they were back at the 3 soon, where a slant pass by Shalla got it to 30-0.
Another MoCo punt saw them stall the Tigers at midfield, including a big tackle for loss by Campagna. On fourth and 12, Sterling went for the conversion from the 50-yard line.
The result was another huge catch by Myers for the score, the small consolation for the Dogs being the first blown PAT by the Tigers, who went to 36-0.
As the fracas ensued, Sterling earned a penalty for roughing the passer late in the first quarter, which got Moffat County to Tiger territory for the first time, starting the second period at Sterling’s 45.
Though they were unable to build on the momentum, failing to convert on fourth and short, the Dogs shut down Sterling on the following drive to retake possession.
However, Bulldog coaches had some big changes to make.
After a helmet-to-helmet contact, Peck was sidelined as a precaution, with Campagna taking snaps in a wildcat formation.
That worked out well enough for two downs, until Campagna was hit in front of the Bulldog sideline and could not get up with a knee injury.
“When it rains, it pours,” head coach Jamie Nelson said.
While Campagna was benched — later transported for medical care and x-rays — MoCo sent in freshman Cort Murphy at QB, the first time for him in a varsity game since the season opener with Summit.
Though he bobbled his first snap to get the scenario at fourth and long, Murphy wound up getting his first varsity TD pass, floating it to Alexander, who scored with the 42-yard reception.
With Peck out, the Dogs also didn’t have their starting kicker, and a two-point conversion flopped.
An onside kick from there didn’t pay off, and the Tigers just missed another massive scoring catch with a 71-yard reception getting them to the Bulldogs’ 1, where a quick pass and PAT made it 43-0.
A sack of Murphy on the next drive was ruled a facemask violation, but the Dogs couldn’t make much of the penalty yardage as a fumble gave it back to the Tigers, with a 26-yard TD pass to Jaxon McCracken getting the 40-point mercy rule in effect as the first half ended with the 50-6 Sterling lead.
With the win all but a certainty, Tigers took their time marching down the field in the second half — which also saw a sack by MoCo’s Keaton Durbin — with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter by the time they scored their lone rushing touchdown, nine yards out by Zavery Pace.
A big draw rush by Donnie Quick got the Dogs in good position as the fourth quarter began, while a spectacular leaping catch by Kameron Baker was ruled out of bounds.
Murphy scrambled for the first down, while Evan Atkin also got his legs in motion.
Atkin, the leading running back for the Dogs’ JV program, got his first varsity points with a 33-yard counter run for the touchdown, fighting his way back over the goal line moments later for the two-pointer.
Sterling’s second-stringers couldn’t add to the scoreboard, with Moffat County’s younger group getting their final minutes on the field, with Izzac Pierce and Tanner Zimmerman sharing credit for a sack and Jayce Christopher making the final play of the day a memorable one with a goal line interception.
Peck finished the game two for 12 on passing with 20 yards, plus 12 on the ground, while Murphy was one for six with 42 as well as eight rushing.
Atkin led with 52 total yards, Quick had 16, Campagna 14 and Hafey four.
Alexander’s 42-yard TD gave him the lead in receiving yardage — ending the year at 447 — with White and Baker each ending the day with 10 yards.
Between the running clock and the Tigers’ intense offensive effort, Bulldogs spent minimal time on defense, with Campagna and Taran Teeter each earning three tackles to lead the count.
While Sterling will move on to the quarterfinals, MCHS finished the year 5-5.
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For the first time in 18 months, the Moffat County High School auditorium will fill with music and singing from students, as the school performs MCHS’s musical, “Beauty and the Beast.”