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Pirates open conference schedule against Alamosa

With the Pirates getting an unusual early-season bye week, allowing the team an extra week to prepare for conference games during the following six weeks, The SUN has prepared a preview and analysis of conference teams and remaining games while offering Pirate fans a little football as they await the next games.

Of course, injuries, suspensions and other unforeseen factors can change the fortunes of a team during any given week — or season. This preview will provide as much up-to-date information as possible as of press time, Sept. 21.

As of press time, Colorado Preps and Denver Post Preps had the Pirates ranked sixth in both Colorado 2A polls.

Similar to the start of the Pirates’ regular season, conference contenders will begin with easier opponents, but the schedule grows increasingly tough in the latter weeks. Two key games in conference play will be an Oct. 7 match against the Demons in Buena Vista and, especially, the season-closing game against the archrival Wolverines in Bayfield on Nov. 4.

“We’ve got to really get down and focus this week,” said Pirate head coach Olin Garrison regarding the beginning of league matches for the season.

Expressing that some work needed to be done to pump up the strength of both offensive and defensive lines, Garrison added, “We also need to be able to move the football on the ground much better than we did last week.”

Garrison said that his team’s first conference opponent this season is a real test for how the Pirates will determine the outcome of this season’s conference contests.

Friday, Sept. 23 v. Alamosa (At home, 7 p.m.) — The Pirates were prepared for Kirtland Central on Sept. 9, a team that has been traditionally much bigger and more athletic than past Pagosa teams. However, the Pirate defense stepped up in a big way (it didn’t hurt that the Broncos’ star running back was out with a broken tibia), while the offense took advantage of a hapless Kirtland defense.

The Pirates need to return with that same mental and physical preparation when they face the Alamosa Mean Moose next Friday.

“Alamosa’s a real deceptive team and they’re getting better every week,” Garrison said after watching Mean Moose game films. “Defensively, they run an eight-man front and they just come at you.”

Battle-hardened by losses to three tough teams, the 0-3 Mean Moose are probably a better team than their record indicates. Losing 41-6 at home to the top-ranked Florence Huskies on Sept. 2, the Mean Moose went down 27-9 against a solid Tiger team in La Junta, then were narrowly edged out 24-23 last Friday by the Savages (a team that played well against Kent Denver on Sept. 2) in Lamar.

Next Friday, the Mean Moose will most likely take the field at Golden Peaks Stadium looking for their first win of the season.

The Pirate defense needs to be on the lookout for two quick and versatile juniors, utility man Jake Heaton and quarterback Zach Meyer, both whom managed to produce respectable numbers against tough opponents. Senior Sebastion Rogers at fullback combines speed and physical toughness, so Pagosa’s defensive line needs to hold the middle to force Rogers to run against the Pirate secondary.

Despite an average of 30.6 points scored against them this season, Alamosa’s defense has performed well in a clinch. Offensively, the Mean Moose have shown some speed and teams underestimating Alamosa’s ability to explode with big plays do so at their own peril.

Friday, Sept. 30 v. Salida (At home, 7 p.m.) — The Pirates homecoming game will most likely not be marred by a loss this year (as happened last year when the Buena Vista Demons defeated Pagosa 30-26 in the final minutes).

The Spartans are fielding a young team this season and their record shows it. Losing at home 41-13 to the Summit Tigers in Zero Week and 34-6 to the C.S. Christian Lions on Sept. 2, the Spartans fared no better on the road, going down 48-0 in Trinidad against the Miners then falling 13-9 last Friday in La Junta against the Tigers.

With lone sophomore QB Alec Coscarella leading a team split between 10 freshmen, nine juniors and eight seniors, the 0-4 Spartans are in the midst of the quintessential building season. Although the match against the Spartans might add to smiles at Saturday’s homecoming dance, it probably won’t provide much excitement for football fans the night before.

Friday, Oct. 7 v. Buena Vista (Away, 7 p.m.) — As stated earlier, one of the key matchups of the season.

The Demons return this year with two players who harassed Pagosa’s defense during last year’s homecoming game. Senior quarterback Cody Troudt combines intelligence with a strong running game and an accurate gun, while senior Dakota Johnson, one of the top-ranked halfbacks in the state, is certain to put the Pirate’s defensive line to the test.

Appearing on the radar this year, junior Josh Williams has been Troudt’s go-to guy down field, exhibiting an ability to maneuver past defenders with an impressive burst of speed. Likewise, junior Koby Close performed exceptionally for the Pirates last year as a sophomore and, as a fullback combining speed and size, has delivered big plays suiting up as a Demon.

Dropping their season opener at home 14-6 against the St. Mary’s (Colorado Springs) Pirates in a defensive duel, the Demons were dropped from both poll rankings but remain poised to climb back into the top 10. Indeed, a 19-7 road victory over the top-10 ranked Colorado Springs Christian Lions, as well as a 40-19 victory last Friday against the Mustangs in Manitou Springs, shows the Demons to be a formidable league opponent.

On Sept. 30, the Demons travel to Bayfield for a conference grudge match (the Demons defeated the Wolverines 20-14 last year at home), providing the Pirates a good look at how their two toughest conference opponents perform in helmet-to-helmet combat.

Friday, Oct. 14 v. Montezuma-Cortez (At home, 7 p.m.) — If the Pirates should have no problems against the Spartans on Sept. 30, the 1-3 Panthers offer even less to worry about. Montezuma-Cortez High School has experienced an unfortunate drain of talent on their athletics department the past two years (the girls soccer team folded last spring) and Coach Casey Coulter fields just seven seniors, four juniors, two sophomores and three freshman this year — a total squad of just 16 players.

Although the Pirates barely got by the Panthers last year at MCHS, pulling out a 30-26 victory in the final minutes, the Cortez officiating was (according to many fans) a factor in the game, with a clear edge given to the Panthers. This year, with MCHS having lost last year’s key players (only senior utility player Tam Phan returns with any respectable numbers) and officiating not tilted to a Panther advantage, the Pirates will most likely play a second half with a JV squad that is logging a tremendous amount of game time this year.

With a Zero Week 38-12 loss to the Miyamura Patriots (a team Bayfield trounced 40-28 on Sept. 9), a Sept. 9 24-14 loss to the 3A Delta Panthers and a 27-6 loss at home against the Farmington Scorpions, MCHS has not shown any indication that the team will provide a serious challenge when they take the field at Golden Peaks stadium.

In fact, the Panther’s only win this season was a 46-8 rout against the Pop Warner-sized Zuni (N.M.) Thunderbirds on Sept. 2. There’s no reason to expect that MCHS will take away a win in Pagosa unless Garrison decides to suit up the Pirate Spirit Team and put the girls on the offensive line.

Saturday, Oct. 29 v. Centauri (Away, 1 p.m.) — Pirate fans may remember that when the Falcons visited last year they took a merciless beating, losing 47-7 on the running clock, only managing a late-game TD against Pagosa’s JV squad.

Unfortunately for Coach Kyle Forster, the Falcons appear poised to repeat history. Still, the young team (only five seniors and eight juniors compared with 18 sophomores and 10 freshman) does not lack talent and has exhibited a ground game that has fared well against 1A opponents so far this season.

However, after just getting by the 1A Pirates 26-21 in Monte Vista on Sept. 2, then mauling the Del Norte Tigers 41-0 at home on Sept. 9, the Falcons stumbled badly their first outing against a 2A team, falling 39-13 against the Miners in Trinidad (hardly a powerhouse in the tough Tri-Peaks league).

Unfortunately for the Falcons, the team lacks the roster and consistency of play to suggest a possible upset in Centauri during this late-October match.

Friday, Nov. 4 v. Bayfield (Away, 6 p.m.) — There’s a reason the 3-0 Wolverines are ranked slightly higher than the Pirates (Bayfield is number five in the Colorado Preps poll and third in the Denver Post’s standings): a bench that’s sick with depth, size, speed, an effective and intimidating secondary, and a team that has been perennially well-coached (head coach Marshall Hahn has a winning 67-percent record since taking the helm in 2007).

Returning senior Colt Walker leads the team at quarterback where he combines speed, intelligence and a gun that is deadly accurate. At 6-3 and 235 pounds, senior fullback Seth Posey remains the locomotive he’s been the past several years while senior running back Aaron Velasquez is currently the second-ranked rusher in state 2A, logging 503 yards this season (and leading with seven TDs) and an impressive 10.3 yards average per carry.

Juniors TJ Pazell and Joe Zink round out a Bayfield backfield that is as dangerous as it is effective. However, it has been Bayfield’s defense that has helped the team rack up such impressive numbers, allowing an average of just 10 points per game.

On Sept. 2, the Wolverines blanked the 1A Dolores Bears 37-0 at home, then returned home the next week to take down the Miyamura Patriots in a 40-28 rout. Last Friday, the Wolverines traveled to Cedaredge, handing the Bruins a 27-3 loss.

Yet, despite their ranking in the polls and the respect they’ve earned from opponents, the Nov. 4 match against Pagosa will not be a stroll on the beach. Not having won against the Wolverines since a 23-21 Halloween night victory at the end of the 2008 season, (a win that earned the team a playoff berth), the Pirates most certainly have scores to settle.

To say that there’s no love lost between the Pirates and the Wolverines is rather like saying mosquitoes are bothersome. If Pagosa can win in Buena Vista on Oct. 7, the Pirates will certainly carry a huge amount of confidence — and attitude — into Bayfield during a season finale that has as much history and mutual enmity as it has importance for the 2011 football season.

And the Pirates have so far earned some of the attitude they’ll carry into conference bouts these next few weeks. Daniel Puskas leads 2A receivers with a 23.4 yards-per-catch average and ties for first with six touchdowns. On defense, Tyson Ross is third in state 2A with 29 tackles while Slade Wylie is sixth with 23 tackles and a division leading four sacks.

The road to conference bragging rights begins tomorrow night when the Alamosa Mean Moose arrive with hopes to secure their first win of the season. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. on the turf at Golden Peaks Stadium.

jim@pagosasun.com

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