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Two weeks will determine post-season football picture

The 6-1 Pirates will be in a must-win situation this Saturday at 1 p.m. in La Jara as they face the 4-3 Centauri Falcons, battling for what could determine the extent of Pagosa’s post-season aspirations.

Last Friday, the Falcons devoured the 1-8 Spartans in Salida — a team the Pirates struggled to beat 14-3 during Pagosa’s Sept. 30 homecoming game.

Following the Salida game, the Pirates fell 28-14 in Buena Vista against the 5-3 Demons. In both games, Pagosa’s offense appeared stalled, on the ground and in the air, nullifying respectable efforts by the defense. However, Pagosa’s offense appeared revived during last week’s 40-21 victory against the 1-8 Montezuma-Cortez Panthers.

If the Pirates prevail in Centauri on Saturday, the Mountain League could be wide open. An interesting match to watch tomorrow afternoon will be when the league-leading Bayfield Wolverines travel to Alamosa for a contest against the 4-4 Mean Moose.

Despite their .500 record, Alamosa has turned their season around, winning four straight since their 41-7 loss on Sept. 23 in Pagosa Springs. The Mean Moose gained their first victory at home on Sept. 30 against The Academy (6-2), the 28-27 win knocking the Wildcats out of top-ten polls. After winning 35-20 on Oct. 7 against the Panthers in Cortez, then pounding Salida 61-13 on Oct. 13 at home, the Mean Moose pulled a 41-35 upset last Friday against the Demons in Buena Vista.

Tied for second with Pagosa Springs in the Mountain League (with the Pirates holding the edge for their overall season record, as well as their earlier defeat of Alamosa), the Mean Moose could create a three-way tie in the conference if they manage to get past the Wolverines tomorrow afternoon and the Pirates pull out a win in Centauri on Saturday.

There is little to suggest that the Mean Moose cannot win tomorrow in Alamosa. Having taken their lumps against tough teams earlier in the season — Florence, La Junta, Lamar and Pagosa Springs (respectively) — the Mean Moose appear to have adjusted well, kick-starting an offense that seemed unable to gel until late September.

Thus, this weekend features two characteristically end-of-season exciting games in the Mountain League, with Alamosa and Pagosa Springs in Do-or-Die situations and Bayfield travelling to face a team that could prove to be a post-season spoiler (as far as playoff seeding).

A Pagosa loss this weekend followed by a loss next weekend in Bayfield would not necessarily signal the end of the Pirates’ season, but the stars would have to align themselves just right to accumulate enough wildcard points to justify one more bite at the apple. Conversely, a win by Alamosa would move the Mean Moose up enough to secure sufficient wildcard points.

Bayfield would still retain enough wildcard points if the Wolverines lose both their final season matches; winning both would mean a top seed in 2A playoff brackets, endowing them with a clear post-season advantage with games at home.

With Pagosa Springs ranked eighth in the Colorado Preps (CP) poll and ninth in Denver Post (DP) rankings, the Pirates have two more chances to improve those rankings — and post-season prospects. Likewise, a loss on Saturday would almost certainly knock the Pirates out of both polls, as well as putting a post-season appearance into question.

Bayfield’s situation is not so precarious and the polls bear that out. Ranked second with DP and fourth with CP, the 8-0 Wolverines hold an esteemed position among four power house teams (and one potential dark horse) that will most likely dominate championship discussions.

At the top of both polls, the 8-0 Brush Beetdiggers took dominance in 2A rankings after the top-ranked Florence Huskies (second CP, fourth DP) lost 14-7 at home on Sept. 23 against the 6-2 Trinidad Miners (seventh in both polls). Ranked third in both polls, the 7-1 Kent Denver Sun Devils lost their only game on Sept. 17, a 35-20 defeat in Florence.

The dark horse this post-season will most likely be Trinidad (ranked seventh in both polls). After two puzzling losses at the start of the season, the Miners have allowed only seven points per game along with toppling the Huskies from the number one position that Florence had held since the preseason. Given an at-home chance to avenge a Zero Week loss against 6-3 Lamar Savages tomorrow night, the Miners may be this season’s Cinderella team.

Number three Kent Denver hosts the 7-1 Bennet Tigers (eighth DP, ninth CP) tomorrow night and it will be interesting to see if the Sun Devils hold on to their ranking after meeting a team that has allowed just 6.6 per game while scoring an average of 36.4 points per game.

Two other teams could be important players in November. Ranked fifth in both polls, the 6-2 Eaton Reds took an odd 7-6 Week One loss against the Windsor Wizards, but nearly knocked off the top-ranked Beetdiggers Oct. 14 in Brush with a narrow 42-41 loss. Ranked sixth in both polls, the Faith Christian Eagles have lost only to Brush and Kent Denver, by four points and 10 points respectively.

Clearly, if the Pirates can get past the Falcons and Wolverines the next two games, they face stiff competition throughout the state. Although the Pirates’ running game has shown some improvement since the beginning of the season (especially behind the size and power of fullback Clay Ross and the wily skills of quarterback Tyson Ross), the team needs to shore up its offensive line to allow more gaps on the ground. Likewise, whereas receivers Daniel Puskas and Kain Lucero have shown the skill, agility and speed to create an explosive drive, weaknesses in the offensive line have led to too many situations where the quarterback is left to scramble past loose linebackers, while the past few weeks have found other teams apparently having read the Pirate playbook, locking up Pagosa corners with uncanny precision.

Playing respectably enough, the Pirates’ defense has nonetheless allowed almost 16 points per game — a dubious statistic given the prowess shown by the offenses showing up in the CP and DP polls.

Finally, the Pirates have made too many mistakes (especially as far as game-changing penalties and turnovers) to be serious contenders in the post-season. If the Pirates hope to be the dark horse team in November, they need to focus, keep their heads in the game (and avoid penalties), fire up both lines and play with the promise they showed earlier in the season when both CP and DP polls had Pagosa ranked four and five.

It’s not that the Pirates don’t have a shot at the state championship: this is, after all, high school football and anything can happen. However (for the politically-minded), unless the Pirates can address the issues listed above — and Saturday’s game in Centauri should give some indication of that — the odds of the Pirates winning this year’s state championship are about the same as Buddy Roemer winning next year’s Republican Party nomination for president.

jim@pagosasun.com

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