Fri Sep 18th, 2015
Special to the Drum
Usually able to feast on prey of their pleasing, something on the Paonia Town Park grounds apparently failed a proverbial ‘smell test’ and early Friday night, Sept. 11, the Eagles were left turning their beaks disgustedly in the opposite direction.
Not because they didn’t want to pick the invasive Bobcats to pieces, but because they were struggling to simply catch up to them as Ignacio’s sawed-off roster, already decimated by ineligibility just three weeks into the campaign, presented them a bizarre, but aptly-named challenge which nearly prevented a scoreboard skunking.
“When I was in college we ran this offense, and we called it ‘Polecat,’” laughed IHS head coach Ponch Garcia afterwards, “and it’s actually the swinging-gate. These kids were like, ‘Are you kidding me? We’re going to run this?’ And I said, ‘Yes we’re going to run this! It’s going to be fun for you; you’re going to enjoy it a lot!’”
And late in the first quarter, only PHS’ star of stars – senior QB/DB Taylor Walters – managed to sniff, then snuff out the guests’ last try to finish a torturous 15-play, 80-yard grind which left Class 1A’s top-ranked team little time to reset defensively (boss Brent McRae burned a timeout to get his boys a breather) before each snap.
“We practiced that offense for about one-and-a-half days … but we got it down and we pushed the ball,” junior running back Lorenzo Pena said. “We didn’t quit and did our best; that’s all we can do against this team.”
“Had 17 kids ineligible this week … all five starting offensive linemen were out … so coach decided we don’t have the size to have a conventional offense,” explained senior quarterback Zach Weinreich. “He said, ‘Let’s try this … gimmick offense, and we’re going to run it every play!’ And we just said, ‘Let’s go for it!’”
The aforementioned drive saw Weinreich line up either in the shotgun behind only senior tight-end-turned-center Austin McCaw, or directly over the ball himself to then pitch it, playground-style after no snap cadence, to Pena or whoever was in the backfield as soon as every Bobcat was in position.
And after Paonia’s Colby Simpson booted the kickoff into the end zone after the Eagles’ second first-quarter touchdown, Ignacio began its third possession at its own 20-yard line with 7:13 left and kept moving forward as far as PHS’ 16 via a 19-yard Weinreich completion.
“This offense, you can create points a lot out of it, if you have the right people with it!” Garcia said.
“This is probably not going to be our standard offense,” said freshman Dustin Sanchez, the lone lineman in uniform. “This is just because Monday we were told one story about grades and Wednesday we were told another, and Wednesday we pulled this out of a hat and decided, ‘Alright let’s run it.’”
“I’m the only eligible lineman, so that’s not a very good formula for beating the two-time State Champs.”
Indeed, two plays later Eagle sophomore Jaden Miller sacked Weinreich back to the 24, and Weinreich’s third-down pass was off-target. Walters (5 att., 144 yards, 3 TD rushing; 4-of-5, 49 yds., 2 TD passing) then almost intercepted the fourth-down throw, killing the drive which, amazingly, had consumed just 3:02 off the clock.
But, in hindsight, regretfully left quick-strike Paonia an eternity to tear the contest wide open.
Three minutes, 20 seconds later, Walters capped the Eagles’ ensuing 7-play, 76-yard counterstrike with a one-yard fling to junior TE Trevor Smith. Simpson’s point-after kick was true, and PHS followed with TD’s each of the next four times – including a 20-something-yard INT-return by senior Trevor Plymale – they’d get the ball, constructing a 49-0 halftime advantage which later doubled as the final score.
With its 25th consecutive win dating back to 2013, Paonia improved to 2-0 (0-0 1A Western Slope) in ’15.
“They realized whichever way we run, we’re probably going to toss to that side. So they started sending linebackers and started spreading them out, and they kind of were able to shut us down,” Sanchez said.
Pena provided the Bobcats’ defensive highlight, recovering a fumble at IHS’ 32 with 7:17 left in the game.
“Felt pretty good,” he said. “All of us did our jobs and what we’re supposed to do, and we got the ball!”
“It was kind of fun,” summarized Weinreich (13-of-32, 72 yds., 2 INT). Because at first you’re like, ‘Oh man I don’t know how this is going…’ but then we’re moving the ball on the State Champions, with an offense that – probably – we’re never going to run on every play ever again! So it was kind of cool.”
McCaw caught a team-high six balls for 34 yards, and Pena two for 22, but IHS (0-2, 0-0 1A Southern Peaks) ended up collectively with almost minus-30 yards rushing.
“We had all tiny kids against a monster,” Garcia said. “But you know what? I’m proud of the kids for what they did. My whole strategy was for kids not to get hurt, for them to walk out of here with their heads high and be proud. They played with heart, lots of enthusiasm and a lot of love for the game … that’s all you can ask for.”
Up next, the Bobcats travel to 2A Pagosa Springs (0-2 overall) on Friday, Sept. 18 for a 7p.m. start, then host 2A Montezuma-Cortez (0-2 as of this issue) at 7 on the 25th.