The Durango High School football team will play at home this week for only the third time this season. It will come in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
The Demons, after an unbeaten 5-0 run through the regular season, earned the No. 3 seed for the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A State Football Playoffs. No. 6 Lutheran, which was ranked No. 1 for much of the season before a loss to Holy Family, will visit DHS for a quarterfinal game of the eight-team playoff bracket.
Durango finished third in the final coaches poll of the season but was second in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), only 0.0004 points behind Lutheran for the top RPI.
“I was hoping we would be No. 1 or 2,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “We are focusing solely on Lutheran. Really, any of the teams in the playoffs are super good.”
The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the DHS stadium. It is not immediately known if Durango School District 9-R will allow any fans at the game. Last week, though San Juan Basin Public Health said 75 fans would be allowed to attend the game under current COVID-19 health guidelines, 9-R opted to close the stadium to all fans. A decision on fan attendance is expected to come Wednesday night.
Lutheran (4-1, 2-1 3A Colorado League), is based in Parker. The Lions did not have a game last week after losing an opponent to COVID-19. The Lions have not played since the 38-14 loss to No. 2 Holy Family, which saw the now second-seeded Tigers (6-0, 5-0 Colorado League) use a power run game to blast through the Lions defense.
Before the loss to Holy Family, Lutheran had blown out all of its opponents. It started the season with a 49-3 home win against Lewis-Palmer before a 57-17 home triumph against Discovery Canyon. A long visit to Palisade was a 54-24 win for the Lions before a 50-18 home win against Pueblo County.
Lutheran has only gone on the road once this season. DHS will hope to have a home-field advantage, though without any home fans, after the Lions travel 350 miles.
“It’s huge. For any team to come and travel five to six hours and come to play us, it’s tough,” Vogt said. “We have a huge advantage when it comes to that.”
Vogt hoped to get a chance at a home semifinal game with a win this week, too. But if DHS wins this week, it will go on the road for the semifinals no matter what happens between No. 2 Holy Family and No. 7 Evergreen (4-2, 3-1 3A Western Slope League). If Evergreen, which DHS beat 17-8 earlier this season, is able to pull off an upset, it would get to host after having to travel in Week 1, per CHSAA rules. If Holy Family wins, it would get to host DHS as the higher seed since both Holy Family and Durango are at home this week.
“That’s where not getting a 1- or 2-seed hurts us,” Vogt said.
DHS and Lutheran have one common opponent this season. While Lutheran beat Pueblo County 50-18 at home, DHS went on the road and beat the same Hornets 49-21.
The Demons won that game largely without the services of senior quarterback Jordan Woolverton, who sprained his throwing shoulder on the team’s first drive of the game. He would continue to play until halftime.
DHS also was without Woolverton last week in a mandated quarantine, though he did not have COVID-19. His close contact exposure to an athletic trainer who had one positive, and later one negative test for COVID-19 put Woolverton and fellow DHS offensive star Ben Finneseth into a 14-day quarantine dating back to Nov. 5.
The players will be able to return to practice later this week. DHS also hopes to get back senior receiver Gage Mestas from the concussion protocol after he also missed Durango’s 27-13 home win against Canon City in the regular-season finale last Friday.
In four games this year, Woolverton has thrown for 629 yards, six touchdowns and one interception with a 60.3 completion percentage. He also has tallied 169 rushing yards and five ground scores on only 18 carries.
The DHS running game is led by junior running back Nate Messier, who has 419 yards and seven touchdowns on 68 carries. Finneseth has another 194 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries while he has caught 11 passes for 153 yards and two more TDs.
Mestas also has more than 100 rushing yards to go with a team-high 14 receptions for 254 yards.
“With Jordan back, we are going to go back to what we always do and what the kids are more comfortable with offensively,” Vogt said. “We will spread it out and use Jordan’s ability to spread the ball to our receivers and then open up the running game.”
It will be a premium quarterback matchup for Woolverton in the quarterfinals. His counterpart is junior Clayton Jacobs. The Lions QB has 1,082 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions this season and has completed 59.7% of his passes. He also has rushed for 323 yards and three more scores.
He is balanced by the strong running of sophomore Ryan Kenny, who has 489 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries.
Six Lutheran receivers have more than 100 yards this season, and five have multiple TD receptions. The team is led by junior Brody Donahue, who has 16 receptions for 267 yards and three scores. Senior receiver Colton Thewes has five touchdowns on only nine catches that have gone for 166 yards.
“They are going to try to spread us out and get their running back involved a lot,” Vogt said. “They’re confident in their quarterback’s arm and really rely on him to be successful.”
The strength of DHS all season has been the offensive and defensive lines. DHS feels it is a little bit bigger up front than Lutheran and sees that as an advantage again this week.
On the other side of the bracket in Class 3A, Roosevelt (5-0) earned the top seed and will host No. 8 Fort Morgan (4-1). No. 4 Pueblo South (4-0) was slated to host No. 5 Mead (5-1). But the 2019 state runner-up Pueblo South Colts now have a first-round bye after Mead was forced to forfeit the game because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Instead of shuffling the entire announced bracket to give the top-seed a bye, Pueblo South was moved directly into the semifinals and will get the winner of Roosevelt and Fort Morgan.
DHS and Pueblo South were supposed to clash in the first week of the season in a league game, but a positive COVID-19 case on the Colts team led the game to be canceled. The Colts are the defending state runner-up. It was a highly-anticipated matchup for DHS after losing the league title game and a state quarterfinal against the Colts in 2019, both games decided by one possession.
“We are glad all those teams are on the other side of the bracket,” Vogt said. “Our ideal situation would be to get a chance to play South in the state championship game. That would be poetic justice for both of our seasons to get back to face each other.”