Moffat County wins Homecoming Game over Woodland Park, 27-23 |

Moffat County wins Homecoming Game over Woodland Park, 27-23

Andy Bockelman / For Craig Press
Members of the Moffat County football team celebrate their 27-23 win over Woodland Park Friday night at home.
Andy Bockelman / For Craig Press

Considering last year’s Homecoming football game was a rather painful shutout, Moffat County High School athletes and coaches were primarily looking for a better experience this time.

And, once they cleared that low bar early, they wanted much more.

And they got it.

Friday night saw the Bulldogs move to 2-0 in the 2A West League with a neck-and-neck match against the Woodland Park Panthers, achieving a 27-23 victory in what was also the team’s first home event.

Despite the continuation of the recent tradition for Classic Air Medical to deliver the game ball via helicopter to get the energy up early, things didn’t start too smoothly for the Dogs in their initial drive, forced to punt quickly before gaining much ground. The Panthers meanwhile went to work quickly, and a deep pass to Woodland receiver Bryson Cox along the sidelines amounted to a 44-yard touchdown reception, complete with an extra point all before five minutes were off the clock.

It looked like the MoCo crew would have to boot it again, but the Bulldogs caught a break on fourth down and one yard to go at midfield when they gambled on the Panthers being impatient, rewarded with an offside call that proved a big boon.

From there, carries by Ethan Hafey, Caleb Frink and Evan Atkin got the group closer and closer before a short jaunt by Hafey got the Dogs on the board and tied up at 7-7 after the kick by Chris Cox.

Now that each squad had crossed the goal line once, a silent agreement began to ramp up the aggression, and a particularly contentious play resulted in Ethan Hafey’s ejection from the game after he traded blows with a Panther early in the second quarter.

The disruption didn’t help the morale of the rest of the Dogs, nor did the subsequent interception that gave Woodland the ball back at the MoCo 35.

However, the defensive charge got a jolt as the Panthers were charged with illegal procedure, and the Dogs were all the more thrilled as Logan Hafey barreled into the backfield and earned a crucial sack — the first of two QB sacks for him during the night — that led to fourth and 20.

Woodland counted on a Panther punt to put the Bulldogs in a precarious position, but even starting from their own 6-yard line, the Dogs kept a calm head as multiple handoffs to Frink got them downfield.

As Frink attempted a sweep right, he escaped multiple tacklers at the sideline, swept back the other way and was well over the 50-yard line on the run, yet a bad block in the back negated the whole thing and forced the Dogs all the way back to their own 11.

A Bulldog punt and a Panther punt later, the Dogs were staring at 4th and 3 from their own 45 with one minute left in the half. The plan to let time and distance do their work for them was scrapped when a bad snap to Chris Cox went exactly Woodland’s way as the Panthers wound up with the ball at the Bulldog 10.

Woodland made the most of the opportunity, scoring on a 5-yard cross to Tyler Baldus, but they didn’t get the full seven points they were expecting as MoCo’s Joe Campagna launched himself in front of the Panther kick attempt, leaving it at 13-7 for halftime.

The Homecoming festivities included a cheer and dance routine by the MCHS spirit program as well as the presentation of Homecoming royalty.

Honored Faculty went to MCHS teachers Krista Schenck and Tyler Seislove, while Honored Alumni were Erin Knez and Michael Wooten.

Erin Knez noted that she loved the chance to be honored alongside daughter Katie Jo Knez, half of the Freshman Attendants with Riley Thompson.

“That really made it special,” Erin said. “That’s going to be a good memory to have.”

With multiple Bulldog jerseys visible for older students, Sophomore Attendants were Sadie Smilanich and Evan Atkin, Junior Attendants Halle Hamilton and Tanner Zimmerman, and Senior Attendants Alexa Neton and Corey Scranton.

Donning the fancy headgear of Homecoming Queen and King were seniors Kelsey McDiffett and Krece Papierski.

With the Bulldogs back on the field, the blue and white’s resolve to gain a Homecoming W began anew as the Panthers fielded the second half kick.

Woodland earned extra yardage with a Moffat County pass interference call and got comfortably into Bulldog territory from there, but MoCo’s defense knuckled down to keep them at bay.

Woodland opted for the field goal attempt, a shot through the uprights that amounted to about 40 yards and three points to put the Panther lead at 16-7.

The next drive saw MCHS’s passing game back in gear as quarterback Ryan Peck whipped it to Myles Simpson and Atkin, each of whom racked up huge yardage after the grab.

The Moffat momentum slowed once they reached the red zone, yet a fourth and 4 situation saw something better than a first down as Blake Juergens scored on a slant pass from Peck.

MCHS got an overdue repercussion on the extra point, as Woodland blocked the kick, the first PAT Chris Cox has not hit so far this season.

The Panthers went three-and-out on their next drive, and MoCo chewed up the rest of the third quarter clock, starting the fourth with a first down by Taran Teeter at the Woodland 36.

A slow but steady march again saw the Panthers get tougher the closer the Dogs got to the end zone, leading to a 4th and goal from the Panthers’ 2. Frink took a wildcat snap and smashed his way over the line to give MoCo their first lead of the night, while the following kick succeeded to put the home team ahead, 20-16.

With eight minutes still on the clock, the Woodland Park offense was showing some signs of tiring out, but the energetic Bulldog defense may have overcorrected as another pass interference foul helped the Panthers to their own 40. The Panthers’ connection on the next play didn’t amount to a touchdown, but it may as well have, as a huge catch got them to the MoCo red zone and a facemask call moved the ball all the way to the Dogs’ 3.

A quick slip over the goal line and the PAT put Woodland back in front, 23-20, with seven minutes remaining.

Now in “do or die” mode, the Dogs stuck to the turf with Peck bouncing off opponents and spinning his way to a first down.

“Ryan’s really starting to grow into that position and getting a lot more comfortable,” head coach Lance Scranton said. “Last year, he was kind of a lieutenant or a captain, and this year he’s being more of a general. That’s what we want out of our quarterback. He’s a smart kid who makes good decisions.”

Atkin also moved the chains substantially on a short pass that turned into a long gain as he wheedled his way around the Panthers before being stopped at the Woodland 24.

A series of short gains kept the Dogs alive before MCHS coaches called a timeout with 38 seconds to go, facing a third and 4 from the Panther 5. Facing a determined pass rush, Peck kept his throw low, but Juergens was right where he needed to be, getting his hands practically on the ground to keep the pigskin off the grass for the TD catch.

Though it was a close one, Juergens said he felt confident after running the route and turning to see Peck’s throw for his second score of the night, a feeling the MCHS senior savored as his fellow Bulldogs swarmed him in the end zone.

The PAT got pushed back thanks to 12 men on the field, but Cox hit it anyway, and the Bulldogs knew they only had to last another 32 seconds.

It seemed all over for the Panthers as Trace Frederickson snagged an interception that he ran back nearly all the way, but a defensive holding penalty negated the turnover. Still, the premature home crowd celebration proved correct when a long, last-second Woodland pass fell short as time expired.

After regaling the crowd with the time-honored school song, a postgame huddle saw everyone on the team credit everyone else with their success as Peck and Frink again thanked the offensive line for their protection and blocking.

Atkin, who plays outside linebacker, credited Bulldog cornerbacks and safeties with solid coverage.

Seniors in particular were thrilled with the win, a huge step up from Homecoming 2019, which saw them fall 28-0 to Aspen in a game rife with turnovers. Still, some enjoyed seeing it come down to the wire.

The skirmish with a tough team will be only one step as next week sees another white and green squad named the Panthers.

Now 2-1 overall, MCHS remains in the running for a conference title for the season, trailing only 4-0 Delta, the lone 2A West team still undefeated after a Friday night home win of 28-10 over Englewood.

MCHS coaches noted that Delta’s win over Woodland Park is one that showed just how well the Dogs can match up when the Panthers visit Craig Nov. 6, the Senior Night game featuring an early kickoff at 6 p.m.

“Delta only beat this team on a couple long passes, that’s all they had. They couldn’t move the ball consistently,” coach Kip Hafey said. “And now we have the chance to beat them on our home turf.”

Coach Scranton agreed that while Delta will be a challenge for the group, he expects the latest win is an indicator of how much the team can accomplish.

“We were our own worst enemy in the first half, but we cleaned things up in the second,” he said.

He added that he felt Woodland’s roster was not anticipating any kind of pushback

“We’ve improved so much from our first game to now,” he said. “I think they thought they were going to come up here and have their way with us, but it turned out different. They were definitely bigger than us, but our kids’ tenacity was something else tonight, especially in the second half. We had to come back from some major adversity tonight with all those penalties and getting a player ejected.”

Time will tell what the scoreboard will read during the Delta game, but Scranton added that while he appreciated the sentiment of Campagna’s statement to the team, he hardly agreed with it

“As a coach, I’ll take a blowout win any day,” he laughed.

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