Looking like an entirely different team than the one that took the field the previous week against Ignacio, the Pirates played an almost flawless game against the Del Norte Tigers last Friday at Golden Peaks Stadium, dominating their opponents with a decisive 47-24 win.
“It was hard to judge if we did great or just good against Del Norte,” said coach Sean O’Donnell, still pleased with his team’s performance. “They’re a young team playing in their first game of the season and they made some first-game mistakes.”
Capitalizing on Del Norte’s inability to hold onto the ball, the Pirates took advantage of an aggressive defense that more often than not put Pagosa in prime scoring position.
Some initial back-and-forth in the opening minutes of the game, with both offenses finding a rhythm for the game, finally ended when Pagosa’s quarterback Tyson Ross broke five tackles for an 85-yard rush to the Del Norte 7 yard line. On the next play, a short pass to Daniel Puskas (and the extra point by Ross) put the Pirates up 7-0 with five minutes, 57 seconds left in the quarter.
Dropping the ball several times during their next drive, the Tigers were unable to put together an offensive attack to match a focused, cohesive Pagosa defense. Rushing on a third and 23 situation, the Tigers had the ball stripped away by Clay Ross who took the Pirates’ booty to the Del Norte 12 yard line. One play later, a quick rush from Dakota Miller and the extra point put the Pirates up 14-0 with 1:48 left in the quarter.
The Tigers took a brief and short-lived revenge when, after the Pirates’ kick made just past mid-field, Del Norte sophomore Kevin Trujillo took a 63 yard rush into the end zone, closing the gap 14-8 with 1:48 left in the period. Not to be outdone, the Pirates finished up the quarter, with :08 left, Zach Lucero took a 31-yard pass from Ross over the line, giving the Pirates a 20-8 advantage at the end of the period.
The Pirates continued their onslaught to the end of the half, holding the Tigers scoreless while racking up another 21 points in the second quarter. Unable to gain ground after Pagosa’s kick, Del Norte punted on fourth and 20 and, losing no time, converted a first and 15 (after an illegal procedure call) into a 53-yard touchdown pass from Ross to Puskas just 2:41 into the quarter, putting the Pirates up 27-8.
Completely dominating the second half, the Pirates put 14 more points on the board before heading into the locker room. At the 7:55 mark, Puskas took another Ross pass for a touchdown after Ross, scrambling in the back field and breaking three tackles finally found his man in position. Ross used those scrambling skills with 5:58 left in the half, finding a hole on a second and goal situation, rushing in to put the Pirates up 41-8 for the half.
Confident of his team’s advantage, O’Donnell began flooding the field with JV players, keeping them on the field for the rest of the game.
The JV squad performed well, almost boosting the score in the final seconds of the second half, falling just shy of another Pagosa touchdown when Austin DeVooght came up a yard shy with a 42-yard run off a Zach Griego pass.
O’Donnell qualified his strategy saying, “It wasn’t just our JV out there. I thought it was a good opportunity to get some of our second-tier guys out there for some field time. After all, you never know when one of your starters is going to get hurt.”
Despite some tough defense by the Pirates, the Tigers managed another score with 10:10 left in the third when Tiger’s standout sophomore Colin Trujillo managed to break away for a 71-yard touchdown rush. However, holding the Tigers to short yardage, the Pirates answered with :59 left in the quarter when Griego, under pressure, fired off a 59-yard touchdown pass to Lee Clark, giving the Pirates a 47-16 lead going into the final quarter.
Although the Tigers managed one more score during the first play of the fourth when Trujillo took a short pass 45 yards for a touchdown, the Pirates held a tight grip on Del Norte’s offense for the remainder of the game, sending the Tiger’s home with a big 47-24 loss.
While the Pirate varsity squad set up the big win during the first two quarters, O’Donnell had to have been pleased with his JV squad, especially varsity level performances by Griego, Clark and Will Laverty.
However, Del Norte promises to be a 1A powerhouse in years to come as sophomores Colin and Kevin Trujillo, along with sophomore Kristopher Lohr not only led the team in yardage, but put up an impressive fight against a tough Pagosa team.
The Pirates spend the next four weeks on the road facing a mixed bag of opponents. In Kirtland, N.M. next Friday, facing a big and physical 4A (New Mexico) team, the Pirates play well outside their league in what could be their first early season test. Although 0-2, the Broncos could prove to be a team looking for a game on which to build some early season momentum.
Looking to next week’s game, O’Donnell said, “We’ve played Kirtland before and they’re fielding a typical Kirtland team — a lot of big kids up front. We’ve got some real challenges.”
The Pirates travel to Dolores the following Friday to face the 1A Bears. Having lost big (40-6) last weekend to Pagosa’s league rivals Bayfield, the Pirates’ match against the Bears should be a boost for Pagosa as it heads into the next two week’s road games against inter-league opponents.
On Sept. 24, the Pirates will be in Alamosa to face the Mean Moose for the first time in conference play (Alamosa having been added to the 2A Mountain league this year). Barely losing to Alamosa 34-37 last year at Golden Peaks Stadium, the Pirates will be looking for revenge against a team that holds a slight size advantage, along with an unusual style of offensive play.
Finishing up their long road trip in Salida on the first Friday of October, the Pirates will play their second conference game against the Spartans. While Salida lost soundly to the Pirates (46-18) last year with the “mercy rule” running through most of the second half of that game (and the Pirate JV playing a good portion of the game), the Spartans will be looking for a payback this year.
In fact, O’Donnell pointed out that every team in the 2A Mountain conference is bringing a seasoned squad back this year for league play.
“There’s not going to be any easy weeks on our schedule,” he said.
The Pirates return home Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. to host a conference game against the Buena Vista Demons at Golden Peaks stadium.