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Pirates open conference play with 56-37 win

The lopsided score in the Pirates’ 56-37 trouncing of Monte Vista last Friday night, revealed two things: Monte Vista was no match for the Pirates (despite a strong showing in the fourth quarter) and, although Pagosa has a few holes to patch if it intends to triumph in the post-season, the team has ample depth to march into a state championship.

Certainly, the 2009 Pirate varsity squad has the potential to move into the upper tiers in post-season play, the evidence being how they’ve fared all season, even in their narrow loss against perennial 3A powerhouse Alamosa (by only three points). However, some difficulties on defense — especially, in stopping strong Monte Vista players like senior quarterback Myles Wiedeman and junior running back Tony Martinez — along with multiple penalties, showed the Pirates in need of tightening up and hunkering down.

Like last week, the Pirates thundered onto the field, dominating the first half. After several pinpoint passes by Taylor Shaffer connected with the talented hands of Paul Hoffman, Pagosa’s quick drive paid off when Tyson Ross took a 6-yard rush into the end zone, giving the Pirates a 6-0 lead just 2 minutes, 51 seconds into the game.

Monte Vista’s Achille’s heel — ball control — was evident when bobbling the ball after taking a Pagosa kickoff, then fumbling again (ruled down before a Pagosa Pirate had recovered). Monte Vista then showed their strength with their commanding running game, built on the back of Martinez who broke multiple Pagosa tackles to complete a 90-yard rush across the goal line. With a successful kick, Monte Vista led 6-7 with 8:48 left in the quarter.

Taking immediate revenge, Hoffman ran back the Monte Vista kick for a 95-yard touchdown and, with Shaffer connecting on a pass to Jordan Caler for a two-point conversion, the Pirates regained the lead, 14-7 with 8:35 left in the quarter.

Until the end of the first half, it was all Pagosa. Immediately after Wes Royston recovered a Monte Vista fumble 5:44 into the game, Ross took a 59-yard rush in for another Pirate touchdown, putting Pagosa up 20-7.

Less than a minute later, Daniel Puskas intercepted a Wiedeman pass but a roughing the passer penalty called the play back, giving Monte Vista a chance to reconcile the mistake. After recovering their own fumble, Monte Vista made a short drive to the goal line but were stopped cold. Taking possession on their own 1-yard line, the Pirates gained ground with a spectacular 57-yard rush by Shaffer and just nine seconds into the second quarter widened their lead to 26-7 on a Shaffer pass to Caler.

Again, Monte Vista was unable to produce, dropping the ball on one play (but recovering), then finding themselves stalled on the Pagosa 14-yard line on fourth and 14. A spectacular catch by Zach Lucero was followed by a razzle-dazzle play that resulted in a 67-yard scoring rush by Shaffer, putting the Pirates up 34-7 with 6:41 left in the half.

Where Monte Vista failed to show much ball control, self-control appeared to be Pagosa’s problem. Indeed, Monte Vista gained a first down on two consecutive Pagosa offside calls and another first down on a Pagosa pass interference penalty. Despite the penalties, Pagosa took advantage of Monte Vista’s inability to hold onto the ball and Ross was able to take a pass interception (tipped into his hands by Lucero) 68-yards to the opponent’s 24-yard line. A touchdown rush by Tyler Sharp, called back on a holding penalty, was answered when Dakota Miller took a Shaffer pass just shy of the goal line. Sharp then ran it in on the next play. The Pirates led 41-7 with just :37 left in the half.

Despite the rash of penalties called against the Pirates, Coach Sean O’Donnell said that after looking at the game film he was not concerned, adding, “I’m proud of the way the kids responded to a tough week of practice, we had a lot of kids out.”

Circulating JV players in throughout the second half, O’Donnell gave his bench some field time — and Monte Vista a chance to catch up. Shut down on the Monte Vista 15-yard line, Pagosa managed another three points on a perfect Sharp field goal, driving the lead to 44-7 with 6:01 left in an otherwise uneventful quarter.

Scoring 30 points in the final quarter, Monte Vista showed that their starters could do well against the Pirate’s second string. Scoring with 11:54 left in the game, Pagosa responded with a breakaway 35-yard rush by Austin Jackson at the 9:35 mark, boosting the lead to 50-15. With 9:34 left, Monte Vista answered with a 37-yard pass reception and rush into the end zone, shaving Pagosa’s lead to 50-23.

The Pirates took their last touchdown of the game with a breathtaking breakaway 55-yard rush by Will Laverty, giving Pagosa 56-29 lead with 7:27 left in the game. Another TD rush by Monte Vista’s Martinez (three for the game, with a total 176 yards rushing) narrowed the score to 56-29 with 3:28 left and a pass reception touchdown with :24 left finalized the score at 56-37, giving Pagosa their first conference win and an overall 4-1 record for the season.

With the headway Monte Vista made in the second half, it’s important to remember that it was their starting players facing (for the most part) Pagosa’s JV squad. “It was a good chance for those second-string kids,” said O’Donnell. “They got to play varsity guys, not their JV.”

Despite some gaps exhibited in stopping powerhouse Monte Vista players, O’Donnell was eager to point out the defensive performances of freshman Cody Snow and junior Mason Laverty.

The Pirates return home to Golden Peaks Stadium tomorrow night for a second conference game against the Salida Spartans. The 0-4 Spartans defeated the Pirates last year in a 21-6 game, causing O’Donnell to say, “They’re in a similar position they were in last year. We’re going to work hard to make sure they don’t sneak up and steal another one against us.”

However, the Spartans lost some key seniors and, while returning with some talent for this year, have appeared to struggle the entire season. Furthermore, the Spartans have only managed to score 43 points during this season; their combined season’s score would have resulted in a loss in Pagosa’s game against Monte Vista.

The game tomorrow begins at 7 p.m.

jim@pagosasun.com