The game was not as close as the score indicates.
Playing their first home game last Friday night, the Pirates finally felled the Kirtland Central (N.M.) Broncos, taking a 34-19 victory against a team that Pagosa has struggled against the past few years.
With Friday’s victory, the Pirates moved up to ninth place in both the Denver Post and Colorado Preps top-10 state 2A rankings.
Citing an impressive Pagosa offense (averaging 42 points a game the past three weeks), the Colorado Preps pollsters obviously missed the impressive defensive performance the Pirates provided fans last Friday.
Ahead 34-0 by mid-fourth quarter, the Pirates were generous to their guests, allowing 19 Kirtland points only when the Broncos’ starters faced Pagosa’s JV players.
However, the first quarter hardly hinted at the blowout that followed. After the Broncos capitalized on their opening onside kick (a ploy they attempted throughout the game, with no following success), the Pirate defense shut down a lackluster Kirtland offense throughout the quarter.
“By far, it was our best defensive effort to date and that made a real difference in the game,” said Coach Olin Garrison. “I was really proud of them for that.”
Unfortunately, Pagosa took awhile to get its own offense in gear, ending the quarter in a 0-0 stalemate against the Broncos.
“At the start, they were lining up with a nine-man front,” Garrison said regarding the Pirates’ slow start. “So we had to go for some alternatives, which obviously worked.”
The Pirates’ fortunes turned around in the second quarter after the offense took advantage of a Kirtland defense that had allowed a total of 100 points during the past two games. After a sack by Slade Wylie (assisted by Clay and Tyson Ross) put the Broncos in a third and 31 position to essentially shut down Kirtland’s drive, the Pirates took advantage of their ground game and the short pass. Using Jeremiah Miller up the middle and Kain Lucero on the short pass, Tyson Ross moved the squad short of the goal line, setting himself up for a quick rush in for the touchdown, putting the Pirates up 7-0 with five minutes, eight seconds left in the quarter.
Once again, Pagosa’s defense stepped up to score two more sacks during the Broncos’ late-quarter drive and returning possession to the Pirates with less than two minutes left. Shifting to Clay Ross up the middle, Tyson Ross set up a quick pass to Daniel Puskas who, putting on a burst into the endzone with 51 seconds left, gave the Pirates a 14-0 lead going into the half.
With Pagosa’s offense unable to deliver on its first drive of the second half, it was the defense that came through again. With the Broncos attempting to pass from their own 27, Puskas took the pick 22 yards for another Pirate touchdown.
With another Kirtland drive shut down late in the third, Tyson Ross rushed for another Pagosa touchdown just nine seconds into the quarter and, with a successful two-point conversion, the Pirates led 28-0 early in the fourth. Pagosa’s indomitable defense gave the Broncos no room to run or pass, and the Pirates struck again with 9:31 left in the game. Tyson Ross, scrambling under pressure in the backfield, took matters into his own hands and, after breaking five tackles, rushed 35 yards for the Pirates’ final score of the game, going ahead 34-0 and essentially sealing the Broncos’ fate.
Although Garrison had begun cycling in reserves late in the third, it was nearly all JV players with 7:45 left in the game. Facing younger, smaller players allowed Kirtland to rack up 19 points in the final minutes of the game, but it was apparent to both teams that the game had essentially been decided earlier in the second half.
“Obviously, they were a bigger, more athletic team than our first two opponents so it was a pretty good challenge for some of our subs,” Garrison said.
Key starters stood out during Friday’s match. On defense, Clay Ross and Ryley Gardner, along with Creede and Slade Wylie, were credited with a sack each; Slade logged eight tackles, Creede had three (and three assists), while Ross logged four tackles and four assists.
Tyson Ross went 11 for 17 on completions for a total of 196 yards passing (with one touchdown) and had 163 yards rushing (for two touchdowns). Puskas caught three passes for 82 yards (one touchdown) and had 22 yards on an interception for a touchdown. Kain Lucero caught three passes for 51 yards and broke up several Kirtland passes.
The Pirates have the week off, taking a bye this weekend, then return home to begin a stretch of conference games that lasts until season’s end. Next up, Pagosa hosts a battered 0-2 Alamosa Mean Moose team that has been pounded by tough teams. Losing 41-6 at home to the top-ranked Florence Huskies on Sept. 2, the Mean Moose went down again at home last week 27-9 against the solid La Junta Tigers.
Tomorrow night, the Mean Moose motor over to Lamar to challenge the Savages (a team that played well against Kent Denver on Sept. 2).
Even if Alamosa arrives with an 0-3 record next Friday, it’s not a team the Pirates should take for granted.
Pagosa celebrates Homecoming on Sept. 30 with a match against the seemingly hapless 0-3 Salida Spartans. After falling 41-13 at home against the Summit (Frisco) Tigers during Zero Week, the Spartans lost again at home the next week, falling 34-6 against the Colorado Springs Christian Lions. Last week, the Spartans were blanked 48-0 against the 1-2 Miners in Trinidad.
Tomorrow night, the Spartans host the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers, a match that could be a preview of the Pirates’ last home game on Oct. 14 when the Panthers come to Pagosa.
Despite the bye week, Garrison said his team will be hard at work preparing to meet conference opponents.
“We’re going to work on answering what they (Kirtland Central) did, to bring a lot of people up front,” Garrison said. “And, we’ll work on defense in a couple of places.”
Conceding that Alamosa will not be a pushover and that the Pirates cannot afford to be complacent over the next two weeks, Garrison said, “It’s our first conference game and we need to play hard. Our players can’t afford to over-analyze the other conference teams too much.”
Next week, The SUN will provide a conference preview and analysis for the remainder of the season, all the way to Nov. 4 when the Pirates face their perennial rivals, the Bayfield Wolverines — the only other Mountain conference team ranked in both polls and placing a slot higher than Pagosa in those standings.