Going into last Friday night’s game against Mesa Ridge, the Pueblo West Cyclones football team was on the playoff bubble.
But the 24 seniors who were honored before kickoff refused to even consider that this could be their last high school game.
Coming off an emotional loss to their archrivals of Pueblo South, the Cyclones looked flat in the early going.
West added some creative wrinkles to their unique kick-off routines (including using a decoy kicker).
But in the end they continued to struggle to execute the onside kicks and Mesa Ridge started the game on its own 45 yard line.
The Grizzlies promptly went to the air to test the Cyclones defensive secondary.
The effective passing tandem of Thomas Bisgrove to Elijah Gilbert heated up quickly.
Mesa methodically moved downfield, put the pig in the pen, and took a 7-0 lead.
The Cyclones were sluggish on their first offensive series, and the Mesa Ridge sideline was loud and proud.
But the West defense woke up and got off the field unscathed on the next series.
Their energy seemed to jump start the Cyclones offensive unit.
Fullback Kaden Wills promptly ran 80 yards for a touchdown — untouched — to tie the game at 7.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Cyclones decided to use some “trickeration.”
Both of the West kickers (Tristian Ross and Willian Dos Santos), approached the ball as if they were going to kick it.
Instead of having Ross bounce another 10 yard onside boot, “kicker No. 2” (Dos Santos), launched the ball deep.
THE BALL LANDED just shy of the end zone and checked up beautifully, like a Tiger Woods chip shot.
The Cyclones decoy kicker, Ross, ran on a dead sprint and recovered the live ball at the Grizzly’s two yard line.
Quarterback Zac Drury waltzed into the end zone on the next play, and the Cyclones had put up 14 points in five seconds.
The Mesa Ridge sideline went quiet, and the rout was on.
The Cyclones controlled the rest of the game and cruised to a 38-10 win.
The Cyclones offense returned to its early season form, amassing 450 yards rushing.
Three West backs broke the century mark.
Drury finished with 148 yards on 20 carries.
Tailback Cameron Clough returned to his prime form, rushing for 130 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.
Wills added another 108 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
DOS SANTOS EVEN showed off some nice range by kicking a 45 yard field goal (something that they Cyclones may need to win a big game down the road).
Offensive guard Malik Jones was feeling good about his team’s line play.
“We have really improved our communication, and our preparation is paying off,” Jones said.
“We know that teams are going to pack in to stop our running game, and our communication has to be excellent.”
The Cyclones offense was unable to finish drives in the second half, but the ball control game kept the clock moving.
The first reserve players — many of them seniors playing their last regular season home game — did an excellent job on both offense and defense.
Junior Josh Patterson clicked off some impressive runs to give the Cyclones breathing room and keep the sticks moving in the fourth quarter.
Pueblo West’s defensive unit went with the “bend-but-don’t-break” approach.
THE GRIZZLIES QUICK rhythm passing was tough to defend, and their receivers piled up some impressive YACs (Yards After Catches).
But the West defenders locked down in the red zone, and came away with several key turnovers.
Defensive backs Brock Wahlert and Travis Meyers each had an interception, and Cameron Vaughan recovered a fumble near the goal line.
The Cyclones defensive end, Zack Napier, is aware of his team’s tendency to turn up the heat in tight quarters.
“We don’t want anyone to score on us,” Napier said.
“We are more intense in the red zone, and we sometimes throw a few more stunts at them in those situations.”
Napier gave a lot of credit to his coaches for helping them focus on the little things that win games.
“We are facing good passing teams,” Napier said, “and we practice all of the little details over and over.
“In practice we have to meet at the ball, and be ready to do ‘up-downs’ when coach blows the whistle at the end of the play…we are all expected to be right by the ball at the same time.”
The repetition and the disciplined defensive play has played a critical role in the Cyclones success to this point.
They are counting on this hard-nosed defensive attitude growing even stronger as they advance in the playoffs.
WHEN THE DUST settled on Sunday, the Cyclones had retained the 14th spot on the 16-team playoff roster.
Offensive lineman Keith Hed conveyed the sentiments of his team very well.
“We are feeling good, and excited to begin the second season,” Hed said.
“We are a good team and we are ready to make a run…our O-line is gelling, our defense is tough…I am so proud of our team right now.”
Pueblo West (7-3, 5-2), will face number three Pine Creek in the first round this Friday (Nov. 8) at 7:00 p.m. at the District 20 Stadium in Colorado Springs.
The Pine Creek Eagles (8-2, 7-0) won the Pikes Peak League with a balanced offensive attack. In the regular season the Eagles averaged 240 yard rushing, 155 yards passing, and 33 points per game. Creek’s losses came at the hands of two 5A teams, Columbine and Lakewood.
Playoff brackets and schedules can be found at www.chsaanow.com.
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