Durango High School football fans have waited a long time to see the Durango Demons, led by senior quarterback Jordan Woolverton, take the field at home this fall. While they may have to wait a bit longer to get a first-hand look at Woolverton, the rest of the Demons are ready to go Saturday.
Class 3A No. 2 Durango (2-0) will host No. 12 Evergreen (2-1) in a non-league matchup at 1 p.m. Saturday at the DHS stadium. It was a late schedule change that brought the two potent teams together, as Pueblo Centennial (0-3) informed DHS last Sunday that it would not travel to Durango for a scheduled 5 p.m. Friday game during this shortened six-game regular season that was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It wasn’t the first time a 3A South Central League opponent from Pueblo backed out of a trip to Durango this season. A Week 1 showdown against No. 3 Pueblo South (1-0) also was canceled on the eve of the new season because of a Colts player’s positive COVID-19 test.
So, on Halloween, Durango finally is set to play in front of its home crowd, though it will be limited to 250 fans because of social-distancing guidelines. It is the first home game for DHS since Nov. 16, 2019, when the Demons beat Palisade 23-14 in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
“We have such an advantage playing at home, being well rested and coming out in front of the fans that we will have there,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “It will be a different atmosphere than normal, but we can’t wait to play.”
While DHS is anxious to take the field along the edge of the Animas River, the Demons are expected to be without the services of Woolverton, the all-state quarterback and safety who injured his shoulder on the first play against Pueblo County in last week’s 49-21 road win.
Woolverton is officially questionable with a Grade 1 sprain of the AC joint in his right shoulder. He threw limited passes in practice during the week but spent most of his time completing physical therapy and coaching up his fellow Demons from the sideline. That includes Ben Finneseth, who replaced Woolverton at quarterback in the second half of last week’s game. The star wide receiver took the first-team repetitions at practice this week at quarterback, while freshman Tyler Harms took the rest of the time behind center.
“We are keeping (Woolverton) sharp to be ready if he can play,” Vogt said. “He’s been mentally engaged and been great this week coaching up (Finneseth) and the defensive guys, too. No matter what, he will be a big asset to us this week, whether he’s playing or on the sideline helping the guys.”
Finneseth ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns in place of Woolverton in the second half last week, and he completed 1-of-3 passes for 11 yards. DHS looks to be a run-heavy offense with him at quarterback, but DHS is excited about getting the ball in the hands of more weapons such as receiver Gage Mestas and running back Nate Messier. Receiver Jordan Stanley, who has previous quarterback experience from his youth and middle school days, also could be a game-changing weapon for DHS.
“We are moving a lot of guys around, and we are going to make sure a lot of guys get the opportunity to get the ball,” Vogt said. “It will be kind of fun this week. We have turned the whole gameplan around (Finneseth) and focused on his strengths. He has so much energy and gets the whole team fired up. It’s going to be fun to watch him make a ton of plays.”
If Woolverton is somehow able to play, the Demons will be happy to have him to expand the playbook. He has thrown for 357 yards and five touchdowns this year while he has completed 63.3% of his passes. He has yet to turn the ball over. He also has run for 67 yards and two more scores.
Durango’s offensive line has been the strength of the team already this season. The big, powerful bunch has paved the way for 420 total rushing yards in two games. Messier has led the squad with 145 yards and four touchdowns on only 20 carries.
“We’ve talked to all the kids this week, and everyone knows they have to step up and do even more this week,” Vogt said. “You might have to block even more this week, do all the little small things to help the team and make sure the whole team is better.”
If Finneseth spends his day behind center, Mestas is sure to be his go-to target in the passing game. Mestas has seven catches for 144 yards this year to go with three runs for 47 yards and another score. Always a threat in special teams, too, Mestas’ speed and ability to step out of tackles will be important to the Demons’ success.
On film, DHS has seen Evergreen play deep in coverage with its safeties, making it hard to attack the Cougars over the top.
“They disguise their looks and blitz corners a lot,” Vogt said. “It’s a pretty complex defense with a lot of twists with their interior D-line that causes problems. It will be a good challenge for our offense to go against a good defensive opponent.”
Evergreen’s offense has plenty of skill position threats of its own. Evergreen was without quarterback Griffin Lauritano in a Week 1 loss to Palisade, but in a 46-8 win against Thompson Valley and a 41-14 victory at Battle Mountain, the senior has been fantastic with 280 yards and seven touchdowns through the air. He has also rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s a real dual-threat quarterback who throws a really good deep ball,” Vogt said. “He also scrambles and makes some big gains off those scrambles.”
Senior running back Noah Martens is the team’s leading rusher. He, too, missed the Week 1 game at Palisade along with three starting linemen. He has rushed 45 times for 403 yards and two touchdowns. He also has caught six passes for 58 yards and two more scores.
“He’s a shifty and talented downhill runner with pretty good speed,” Vogt said. “We are working on a lot of contain in practice, so hopefully, that will show up in the game.”
Carter Cassin is Evergreen’s leading receiver with 103 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches. Jackson Mott, another senior receiver, has five grabs for 99 yards and two more scores.
“They’re both 6-foot-1, 6-2 and can go up and catch the ball at the high point,” Vogt said. “They love to run fade patterns and bury you down the sideline. That quarterback, he throws a high, good ball to them, and they get a lot of completions that way.”
Evergreen’s defense has forced and recovered five fumbles this season and also has three interceptions. But the Cougars have also lost four fumbles on offense. Meanwhile, Durango has intercepted five passes this year.
In an even matchup on paper, much focus will be on the play of each team’s line on both sides of the ball as well as special teams, as the Demons are always dangerous in the return and kicking games.
“It’s always good to play a good opponent,” Vogt said. “You always get better and learn from those games. Playing these really good teams help prepare us for the playoffs. We have worked on a few things this week, and we have had a lot of fun.”
Evergreen (2-1) at Durango (2-0)
CHSAA Class 3A football
1 p.m. Saturday
KKDG 99.7 FM
Home fans will enter through south gate. Visiting fans from Evergreen will enter through the north entrance. Evergreen fans will sit on the north concrete partitioned area. All fans will have to wear masks while inside the stadium and practice social distancing. Student seating will be on the bottom south end of the bleachers, and cheer/band parents will take the top portion of that section. Football parents and general admission will have the other two metal bleacher sections.