Several times this year, the Pirate football team was labeled an “underdog.”
And several times, that dog proved it can bite.
The Pirates, as the underdog, took a big chunk out of their opponent in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs Saturday at Golden Peaks Stadium, defeating the Manitou Springs Mustangs, 40-7.
“Manitou Springs was favored to beat us because they had an 8-2 record and we had a 5-5 record,” said Pirate Coach Sean O’Donnell. The Pirates were 4-1 in the Mountain League, tied for the league title; Manitou Springs had a 7-1 record, and finished in second place in the always-tough Tri Peaks League.
The teams played on equal terms in the first half, and the game appeared as if it would be tight.
The initial pirate touchdown against Manitou Springs came on a 43-yard punt runback by freshman Tyson Ross.
Pagosa was ready to add points to the scoreboard after Manitou lost a fumble, but the Pirates returned the favor with a fumble of their own.
Pagosa moved the ball again against the Mustangs, with senior Mike Smith carrying the load at running back. Again, though, ball handling problems cost Pagosa a scoring opportunity in Mustang territory.
Near the end of the first half, Pirate quarterback Taylor Shaffer passed 43 yards to Paul Hoffman, to move within striking distance, then passed again to Hoffman for a 3-yard six pointer.
Smith kicked extra points following each Pagosa touchdown.
Manitou was hardly out of contention at that point. The Mustangs scored on a 15-yard pass from Alex Reiter to Brent Granger.
The halftime score was Pirates 14, Mustangs 7.
From that point on, the dog ruled the day.
Ross intercepted a Reiter pass and, at series’ end, Joe DuCharme caught a Shaffer pass for a TD.
DuCharme scored again on a pass from Shaffer, following a Cody Bowdridge interception.
Zach Lucero added to the Pirate interception tally providing his team another opportunity on offense. Shaffer threw long to Ross, then took the ball into the end zone himself on an ensuing play, from 18 yards out.
The Pirates’ final score came on a pass from Shaffer to Ross, the Pirate freshman snagging the ball in the corner of the end zone.
Shaffer had a banner day against the Mustangs, the Pirate senior completing 14 of 21 passing attempts for 181 yards. He ran for one touchdown and passed for four more.
Seven Pirate receivers caught Shaffer passes: Ross (four); DuCharme (two); Hoffman (three); Lucero (two); Smith (one), Jordan Caler (one), and Bowdridge (one).
Mike Smith led the rushing attack for Pagosa, gaining 121 yards on 27 carries. DuCharme gained 69 yards on four runs. Shaffer ran nine times for 28 yards. Steven Smith rushed four times for 22 yards.
The Pirate offensive line — Andrew Rice, Dakota Ross, Sackett Ross, Wes Royston and Myron Voorhis — played a huge role in the victory, opening holes for the running backs and giving Shaffer time to throw the ball.
The defense intercepted Reiter four times (Ross, Caleb Pringle, Lucero and Bowdridge) and sacked the Mustang quarterback four times. Pirate standouts were Tyson Ross with 11 tackles, Tino Lister with nine, DuCharme (eight) and Sackett Ross (six).
The Pirates earned 21 first downs and their opponent had 11 first downs. In the penalty department the Pirates had four, for 30 yards, and the Mustangs had four, for 35 yards.
“I congratulate our defense for their performance against Manitou Springs. We held them to seven points and they had averaged 26 points a game,” O’Donnell said.
With the win over Manitou, Pirates were one of eight teams to reach the 2A quarterfinals. Olathe downed Buena Vista, 55-10; Platte Canyon took Holy Family, 40-19; Faith Christian beat Classical Academy, 56-16; Florence defeated Aspen, 36-13; Erie edged Platte Valley, 34-6.
Four of the eight teams will reach the semifinals on Nov. 22 and two teams will be in the championship game on Nov. 29.
This Saturday, at 1 p.m., the Pirates tackle highly-ranked Platte Canyon (10-0) in Bailey. “Platte Canyon has averaged 40 points or more per game this season. Our job is to stop the Platte Canyon offense this week,” said O’Donnell. “They use a double wing offense. They also have some big kids.”
The Pirates, plagued by injuries earlier this season, are in good condition now, and ready for action, according to O’Donnell.
The dog is ready to be let off the leash. In Bailey.