Despite officiating that many in the stands thought questionable at best, unfair at worst, the Pirates overcame numerous myopic calls to defeat the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers 30-26 in the final seconds in a must-win situation.
“We overcame what we perceived as adversity to pull this out at the end,” said coach Sean O’Donnell.
With the Panthers holding ground on defense and a flurry of flags knocking the Pirate’s offense off kilter, Pagosa made good on a long, tortuous drive in the final seconds of the first quarter when Tyson Ross took a 6-yard rush into the end zone with 34 seconds left in the period and, also making good on the two-point conversion. The Pirates led 6-0.
The Panthers readily replied on the next drive and, with 11:55 left in the second quarter, connected for a score on a 37-yard pass, narrowing the Pirate lead to a single point advantage. However, the Pirates answered at 7:29 when Dakota Miller took a 12-yard rush across the goal line and a Ross pass to Puskas for the conversion put Pagosa up 16-7 midway through the second.
Taking advantage of numerous Pirate penalties, the Panthers drove 80 yards in the final minutes of the half, and with a 5-yard rush into the end zone, cut the deficit to 16-13 with 2:51 left in the half.
Receiving the opening kick in the second half, the Pirates looked as though they would be stopped at fourth and sixth, but a 30-yard pass to Zach Lucero kept the drive alive. Moments later, at 7:21 in the quarter, Lucero took another Ross pass from 18 yards, putting the Pirates up 22-13.
With two drives cancelled out on respective fumbles, the Panthers were finally able to capitalize on a 2-yard rush with 4:54 left, snipping their deficit to 22-19 in the third.
With the Pirates poised to score again, the Panthers picked off Ross near their own goal line, setting up a 97-yard drive and the Panthers’ first lead of the game when Cortez quarterback Tallon Ralstin connected with his receiver Tyler Largo from 15 yards out with 6:44 left. With the PAT good, the Panthers held a 26-22 advantage.
The Pirates’ answering drive, despite being bogged down by numerous penalties (at one point, Pagosa was first-and-45), eventually paid off when two consecutive passes to Puskas put the Pirates over the goal line with just 29 seconds left. With a short rush by Ross for the conversion, the Pirates left Cortez with a narrow 30-26 victory.
“In a must-win situation, I felt our guys battled strong in four quarters in a game we had to win and came away with another ‘W’ for the season,” O’Donnell said.
Ross threw for a total of 284 yards on 18 of 23 attempts, scoring two passing touchdowns while also rushing for 133 yards on 24 carries and a single touchdown. Of the 533 yards compiled by the Pirates’ offense, 417 were tallied by Ross.
The win on Friday gives the Pirates a 6-2 season record and 3-1 in conference; currently Buena Vista leads the league with a perfect conference record.
The Pirates take a bye week this week, returning to host the 1-5 Centauri Falcons (0-3 in conference) on Friday, Oct. 29 at 6 p.m.
Despite the Falcon’s weak record, O’Donnell is taking nothing for granted saying, “Centauri is always scrappy and they have an exceptional tailback, T.J. Velasquez. We’re going to have to play good football.”
O’Donnell noted that the Falcons “gave Buena Vista a real test last week,” when Centauri lost 29-22 to the Demons in Buena Vista.
Current conference leaders Buena Vista handed Pagosa a spoiler for Homecoming on Oct. 8, defeating the Pirates 30-26 in the final minutes of the game.
The Pirates play their final game at home against their perennial conference rivals, the Bayfield Wolverines on Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. in Golden Peaks Stadium.
Currently at 5-1, the Wolverines pounded the Salida Spartans 41-0 on Oct. 8 in Bayfield; the Pirates squeaked by the Spartans 12-9 in Salida on Oct. 1 in a heavily defensive battle.
Last year, the Wolverines defeated the Pirates 21-20 in Bayfield, knocking the Pirates out of the 2A top seed post season position and their rank as sole conference champion — Pagosa shared that title with Salida after the loss in Bayfield.
On Nov. 5, look for Pagosa fielding a team with a score to settle.
Fans should take note that the next two home games begin an hour earlier — 6 p.m. — to allow for shortened daylight hours and much, much cooler evenings.