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Pirates whip Centauri, one conference game remains

After taking an easy 41-13 victory in La Jara last Friday against the Centauri Falcons, the Pagosa Springs Pirates are poised to claim the title of undisputed Mountain Conference champions.

Bayfield’s loss last Friday in Monte Vista cinched the title for Pagosa, but there’s still one game left in the season and it is the Bayfield Wolverines who could play the spoiler.

The caveat — fat ladies singing and all that — is that the Pirates could end up being league co-champions with Salida if the Spartans win in Buena Vista tomorrow night (a somewhat likely outcome) and if the Pirates end up losing to the Wolverines in Bayfield (a highly unlikely scenario).

However, if history — as it has been written this season — is any indication, the Pirates should have no trouble tomorrow night. Indeed, the by-the-book victory in La Jara illustrated again how much the Pirates dominate the conference.

Taking awhile to warm up on a wintry afternoon in the San Luis Valley, the Pirates finally struck with five minutes left in the first quarter with a 6-yard Taylor Shaffer pass to Tyson Ross. Ross added an extra point, giving the Pirates a 7-0 leading edge.

Unable to gain traction on their possession, the Falcons were eventually grounded when Paul Hoffman picked off a Centauri pass. Capitalizing on the turnover, Ross took a 5-yard rush in for the touchdown and kicked the extra point with 2:21 left in the quarter.

While the Falcons managed to score a touchdown early in the second quarter, the period belonged to Pagosa Springs. A 17-yard rush by Shaffer with 9:43 left was followed by 13-yard touchdown pass when Shaffer connected on the throw to Jordan Caler with 8:01 left in the quarter. With Ross connecting on every extra point opportunity and a 10-yard Shaffer pass to Hoffman good for the touchdown with 41 seconds left, the Pirates left the half with a commanding 35-7 lead.

“I was proud of the way we came back and executed,” Coach Sean O’Donnell said, referring to last week’s close loss to the 3A Panthers in Delta.

In fact, O’Donnell was confident enough in his team’s performance to begin pulling key starters from the field midway through the third quarter. With 7:38 left in the quarter, Dakota Miller took a rush into the end zone for the Pirate’s final score of the game. A Centauri rush for a touchdown was not enough to salvage the Falcons’ game and the Pirates left La Jara with a huge 41-13 win.

“We had a few injuries in the third quarter, but after looking at everyone, I think everyone’s going to be OK,” O’Donnell said, looking ahead to tomorrow night’s match against league rival Bayfield.

While the Pirates can claim to be league champions after their last conference win (and Bayfield’s loss in Monte Vista), they do run the risk — albeit, a slim risk — of being relegated to co-champions if they lose in Bayfield tomorrow night. In fact, O’Donnell expressed some caution on tomorrow night’s game, saying, “It’s a rivalry game, in Bayfield, which is always tough.”

However, the numbers suggest that the Pirate’s 4-0 conference record bodes well, relative to Bayfield’s 2-2 league record. Furthermore, the Pirates have outscored their conference opponents by more than 30 points a game, while the Wolverines have only outscored those same opponents by an average of 6 points a game.

Guaranteed a home field advantage for the first playoff game on Nov. 14, the Pirates risk being matched with a higher-seeded team for that game if they share the league title with Salida (the Pirates would still be seeded No. 1 due to having beat Salida earlier in the season). However, if this season’s trend is repeated tomorrow night, the Pirates should be matched against a lower-seeded team, improving their chances of moving onto the second round of the playoffs.

With warm temperatures forecast for Friday night, hopefully local fans will make the drive to Bayfield for the Pirates’ final game of the season, to watch their team earn the title of league champions — alone on top.

jim@pagosasun.com