Pirates earn league title, knock off La Junta 35-13

SUN photo/Randi Pierce
Pirate running back Dylan Tressler aims for the end zone while La Junta defenders aim to take him down, resulting in a Pirate touchdown. The Pirates had success running the ball and ended the night with a team total of 390 rushing yards.

By Clayton Chaney
Staff Writer

Last Friday, Nov. 6, the Pagosa Springs High School Pirate football team played its last regular season game of the fall 2020 season, in which they defeated the La Junta Tigers 35-13. 

The Pirates finished the regular season with an overall record of 5-0 and a league record of 4-0, making them the champions of the 2A Southwestern League. 

The Pirates got the ball to start the game, but were unable to produce any points on their opening drive, which led to a punt that pinned the Tigers deep inside their own territory. 

The Pirates’ defense held the Tigers to a quick three and out and got the ball back with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter. 

It looked as if the Tigers were going to hold the Pirates off from scoring for a second consecutive drive until a hard snap count from quarterback Grant Aucoin drew the Tigers offsides on a fourth-and-1 attempt. 

The drive was spearheaded by running back Dylan Tressler, picking up significant yards on consecutive carries. The drive was capped off by a 20-yard touchdown run from Aucoin and a successful extra-point attempt made the game 7-0 with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter. 

On the ensuing drive for the Tigers, Pirates’ safety Aidan O’Donnell came up with the first takeaway of the night with an interception. 

As the Pirates looked to capitalize on the Tigers’ turnover, Aucoin was picked off on a pass that was tipped up in the air, intended for wide receiver Mitch Lewis. 

The Tigers were able to march the ball down field inside the Pirates’ 20-yard line. A wide-open dropped pass was the result of an unsuccessful trick play on a fourth-and-goal attempt, which gave the ball back to the Pirates with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter. 

The Pirates were able to get out of their own territory, but a series of back-to-back penalties forced them into a second-and-long situation. 

A few short gains led to a fourth-and-10 attempt in which the Pirates ran a trick play of their own, a wide receiver reverse pass. O’Donnell connected with Lewis for a 15-yard gain to keep the drive alive.

A few plays later, Tressler was able to break off an 18-yard touchdown rush to make it 13-0 with just over two minutes to play in the second quarter. 

Tressler ended the night with 262 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries.

“We missed some throws early, but it was fine. We settled in and we started making throws and I think that’s what opened up the running game,” coach Nathan Morales said in a phone interview.

The Tigers were able to strike back on the ensuing kickoff and returned the kick 90 yards for a touchdown. With the extra point attempt successful, they brought the score to 13-7.

The Pirates had a chance to get more points on the board just before the end of the first half. With time running out, Aucoin connected with Lewis on a deep ball to the end zone. 

However, a flag was thrown on the play and after a few moments of discussion, the referees called offensive pass interference, taking away a Pirate touchdown and ending the first half. 

The Pirates attempted an onside kick to open up the second half, but were unsuccessful in recovering the kick. 

After a short drive, the Pirates’ defense was able to hold the Tigers off and get the ball back. 

With just over eight minutes to play in the third quarter, Tressler was able to find his way to the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown rush. A successful two-point conversion brought the score to 21-7.

The Pirates’ defense came up with a fourth-down stop to get the ball back with 6:22 remaining in the third quarter. 

The Pirates’ offense was able to march down the field and Tressler broke off another touchdown run to make it 28-7 with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter. 

A couple drives later, Tressler fumbled the ball, which was recovered by the Tigers. 

The Tigers’ offense was able to capitalize on the Pirates’ turnover with a touchdown pass that brought the score to 28-13 with over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. 

On the next drive for the Pirates, Tressler was once again able to find his way to the end zone for his fourth touchdown on the night. Another successful extra-point attempt brought the game to 35-13.

The Pirates’ defense was able to come up with another take away late in the fourth quarter. O’Donnell made his second interception on the night with just under two minutes to play. 

“Aidan’s done a real good job for us back there,” Morales said in reference to O’Donnell’s defensive performance so far this season. 

The Pirates ran the clock out to end the game with a final score of 35-13. 

“It was a great team win,” Morales said. “I’ve been real proud of them team this year in the second half. We love to win the fourth quarter. That’s big for us.”

According to Morales, the playoff brackets will be released this weekend, giving the Pirates two weeks to prepare for their first-round playoff game.  

“This year is so unique and we’re just happy we’ve gotten to play so far,” he said. “We’re doing our best to stay healthy and to stay away from COVID.” 

At a Nov. 10 meeting of the Archuleta School District Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Kym LeBlanc-Esparza announced that the players of the Pirates’ football team submitted a proposal to switch to online learning in order for them to be able to self-quarantine for the next few weeks before playoffs. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the superintendent announced in an email to district staff that a La Junta player tested positive for COVID-19 and that he was involved in the majority of Friday’s contest. 

LeBlanc-Esparza announced that the Pirate football team will have to quarantine until Nov. 20.

“Coaches and players had already requested permission to self-quarantine in order to prevent exposure and stay healthy, this just confirms that their instinct was the right one,” LeBlanc-Esparza wrote.

The email continues, “There is not a risk to any other high school students or staff due to this exposure.”

As for how the team will be preparing on the field, Morales commented, saying, “We’re going to practice like it’s a game week. We got to stay focused, keep the intensity and prepare like champions. That’s what champions do, they work hard every day, so that’s what will be doing this week.”