Moffat County football seeks upset over No. 2 Sterling
With countless hours spent on the turf, in the weight room, on the team bus and otherwise in the last few months, Moffat County High School football players and coaches were unsure if this coming weekend would see them suit up once again.
And, now that the goal of reaching the 2A CHSAA state playoffs has been reached, Bulldogs’ next item on the checklist is to get even further.
MCHS hits the road Friday to join the fray in the postseason, with the No. 15 seed Dogs matched up against the second-seeded Sterling Tigers.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Saturday in Sterling as the Bulldogs look to move on to the quarterfinals.
The team has been at it all week at the Bulldog Proving Grounds, with a sudden wave of warmer weather hitting Northwest Colorado after the cold snap of the past week, with a downright balmy climate during practices.
“You got the snow from last week, but 40 to 50 degrees of weather. It’s the perfect week of practice. It’s not hot, it’s not cold,” head coach Jamie Nelson said.
By the numbers, there’s no denying it will be a tough outing for MoCo athletes, with a maximum quantity of players this year being 40, with 38 currently on the roster.
A vast majority of the Bulldogs — who finished fifth in the 2A Western Slope League at 5-4 overall, 1-4 in the league — are juniors or younger, and of the six seniors who started the fall, only four are still active — Keaton Durbin, Dario Alexander, Kameron Baker, and Dagan White.
In contrast, the Tigers — 8-1 overall, 5-0 Patriot East League — have 44 players listed on MaxPreps, 11 of whom are upperclassmen.
Among the Sterling seniors is quarterback Brock Shalla, averaging 173 yards per game between combined rushing and passing, throwing for 1,176 yards with 72 completions, nine passing touchdowns, five rushing, and four interceptions.
Though he hasn’t taken to the ground nearly as much compared to Shalla’s 385 running yards on 89 carries, Bulldog sophomore Ryan Peck remains close in passing yards — 1,110 on 87 completions to average 123 per game — as well as a respectable 154 yards on 41 runs, punching in four.
While he’s thrown eight TD passes this fall — his longest a 78-yarder to Ethan Hafey — Peck’s rating has been hurt by an abundance of interceptions, 14 in his first year as a starter.
The Tigers’ rushing average as a whole is nearly 180 per match, led by Conner Polenz’s 482 tally for the year. With an average of 121, Bulldogs will be looking to gain some yardage despite being without Kevin Hernandez, who ran more than 700 of the team’s 1,000+ ground yards, with Joe Campagna, Taran Teeter and Donnie Quick remaining backfield threats.
Peck will have plenty of targets between Alexander, White, Baker, and Hafey, all of whom have triple digits in receiving yardage, with Sterling boasting five receivers who have surpassed 100 yards.
On defense, MCHS holds much bigger numbers, averaging 68 tackles per game compared to the Tigers’ 48, with the two teams close on total sacks — 16 for Bulldogs with 5.5 for Campagna and 17 for Sterling, six for Keaton Knaub.
At linebacker, Campagna and Teeter alone have a huge margin over any of the Tigers on overall hits this year, with 89 and 87, respectively. Zach Busmente leads Sterling with 54 tackles.
The two teams also are big on picks — eight for the Dogs and nine for the Tigers — and White and Jackson Keil each lead their team in interceptions with four apiece.
The statistics don’t mean too much to Nelson, though he’s seen game film that proves Sterling is no doubt a formidable opponent.
“They kind of remind me of Delta, where the quarterback and tailback have the majority of the rushing yards. They throw a lot, they run a lot. They do everything,” Nelson said. “They’re steady, they’re consistent, they do things right to move the ball and come out and stop people on defense.”
There’s hardly any point denying the two teams are on equal footing, though coaches and players have no problem calling a potential win an upset.
“The last couple days of practice, execution has been better than in previous weeks, so I’m excited to see what happens,” Nelson said. “Once you set a goal you have to set another one, and we should be elevating as the season goes. Players are excited to go.”