Horns Down: Moffat County football corrals Longhorns with win in league opener
For the Craig Press
The white jerseys of Moffat County High School football players may have been utterly filthy by the end of Friday night’s road game, yet the Bulldog season record remains immaculate.
MCHS shook up the rankings yet again with a 19-6 victory against fellow undefeated squad Basalt, pushing the Dogs to 5-0 so far.
With a sizable MoCo crowd among the Longhorn faithful celebrating their annual Homecoming, umbrellas and ponchos were plentiful as a downpour began roughly 5 minutes before kickoff.
Yet, even though the wet conditions helped neither side, MCHS grit its teeth and did what it’s done all fall.
Wet and wild
With the Longhorn lineup making their entrance loud and proud in a livestock trailer, the Bulldog sidelines were repeating a mantra to stay focused: “Set the tone.”
It was easier said than done with the rain only increasing as the opening kick commenced and the Dogs were held to a three-and-out start. Basalt likewise had to punt after a few failed downs, as neither team could find any traction on the field.
Still, in a night that saw him rush for 159 yards, MoCo junior Evan Atkin busted loose from midfield on the Dogs’ second drive to get the chains moving and the Moffat momentum going.
Once at the 5-yard line with 5 minutes remaining in the quarter, Atkin swept out wide to score the first of three short touchdown runs he would compile during the evening, though the Longhorns held off the two-point conversion.
Basalt found a successful strategy by running repeatedly up the middle, and were in the red zone by the start of the second period. On fourth down and long, the Bulldog defense wasn’t fooled on an attempt to draw it offsides and, after burning a timeout, the Longhorns attempted a field goal to no avail.
Shortly after, one of many holding calls on the night held back Moffat County offense, but a frustrated Atkin booted the ball perfectly on the resultant punt to force Basalt to start only 2 yards from their own end zone.
A late hit on Basalt quarterback Kade Schneider called against the Dogs helped the Longhorns, but a slow-moving stampede up the field ended in disaster, as Wilson Maytham fumbled the increasingly wet pigskin just before crossing the goal line, a mistake which seniors Taran Teeter and Ethan Hafey made him pay for by diving on the ball like a live grenade.
With less than a minute to go before halftime, the Bulldogs merely chewed the clock to go back to the locker room.
Soggy second half
The deluge died down in the third quarter and stopped entirely by the fourth, but the field was no less soaked, as were the two teams playing on it.
Basalt found that out the hard way with another loose ball on the next kickoff, which MCHS junior Max Noland successfully seized.
“One guy had him wrapped up, Cort (Murphy) came in and hit him and the ball just popped out, so I saw it there and dove on it,” Noland said. “We just wanted to go out there and stay ahead.”
MoCo had seven fumbles but only lost two throughout the night, though further recoveries by Atkin and Marcos Romero kept the Longhorns overwhelmed as they struggled to make progress, while a blocked punt by Ian Hafey and the fourth consecutive game with an interception by junior Cort Murphy only made things worse.
As possession kept switching, MCHS QB Ryan Peck wasn’t too worried about the ball changing hands, even though at times snaps from center Catcher Jackson were tricky.
“There were a couple times on the exchange where the ball was slippery, and it was hard for Catcher to get a grip on it, I can’t blame him for that,” Peck said. “When that rain was coming down, it was hard to see and hard for everyone to hold onto that ball.”
Jackson likewise didn’t let the precipitation’s aftereffects get in his head.
“It was definitely slippery, but it’s what you expect with rain,” he said. “The whole team kept good mentally.”
Late in the game, Basalt caught a break with a booming pass by Schneider to Sam Sherry, which was nearly picked off by MoCo senior Carson Miller. Two plays later, Cooper Crawford ran in the TD to get the home team on the board, though MCHS senior Trace Frederickson broke up the pass attempt for the conversion.
Though denied their third shutout of the season, the Bulldogs stayed true to their run game and sped toward the final whistle by running out the clock with repeated bursts of rushing.
“We knew as a team we’d have to run the ball a lot and just protect it,” Peck said. “Passing wasn’t really in our game plan tonight.”
Peck attempted only four passes, with two completions and 14 yards, one throw apiece to Atkin and Logan Hafey, but the ground game spoke for itself. On top of Atkin’s triple-digit output, Ethan Hafey earned 45 yards, Teeter 22, Peck 10, and Frederickson 1.
The Bulldog defense, truly put to the test for the first time this year, amassed 56 total tackles. Atkin and Teeter led with eight each, with six in the stats for Frederickson, Peck and Myles Simpson.
Apart from five regular tackles for loss by the team, Simpson and Ethan Hafey each earned one sack against Schneider.
“The biggest part of it for us was getting into their heads,” Simpson said. “We just kept punishing them, and we came out victorious.”
By the end of the night Friday, Moffat County football reached the top of the 2A RPI standings and now stand as the 2A West League’s top dogs, the lone team without a loss.
Elsewhere in the conference, Aspen snapped its three-game cold streak in an equally rainy night down the road from Basalt, rolling Rifle 34-19, with both teams now 2-3 overall.
Things were far more one-sided in a matchup between Delta and a still-winless Coal Ridge squad, as the Panthers moved to 4-1 by crushing the Titans 63-0.
In the coming Week 2 of league play, Coal Ridge will host Basalt and Delta will travel to Aspen, while Moffat County hits the road again to meet Rifle.
The win over Basalt, the first for MCHS football since 2015, was a big confidence booster for the Dogs, who are already eagerly awaiting the next round of Friday Night Lights.
“Nobody’s doubting us anymore, we are that team,” Simpson said. “Now that we took down Basalt, I think everybody’s gonna be a little more scared of us, I hope, but it’s just another day in the office, as I like to say.”
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