Explosive Vail Christian ready for Haxtun
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado ” For six straight games, the Vail Christian football team couldn’t be stopped. Then came the bye week.
Now, the Saints (6-1) are hoping the time off didn’t cause them to lose all the momentum from a six-game winning streak. Vail Christian will find out Saturday when it hosts Haxtun in the first round of the 8-man playoffs at Phelan Field in Eagle-Vail at 1 p.m.
“I think the bye week kind of lulled us to sleep a little bit, but I think we’ll be able to step it up on Saturday,” junior Larry Cavanaugh said.
Statistics speak to Vail Christian’s dominance. After a 25-14 loss to Plateau Valley in their first game, the Saints blew out the rest of their schedule. During its win streak, Vail Christian is averaging more than 46 points per game, while only giving up 10 per contest.
The competition is about to get a lot tougher. In comes Haxtun with a record of only 5-3, but the Fighting Bulldogs played in one of the toughest 8-man leagues. The Plains League features powerhouse teams like Merino and Dayspring Christian. The Saints are all too familiar with Merino, losing to the Rams 59-6 in the first round of the playoffs last season.
The bye week did give Vail Christian at least one luxury. The Saints’ coaching staff was able to watch Haxtun play in person. The Bulldogs enter Saturday’s matchup averaging 32 points per game.
“They are a well-balanced team,” Vail Christian coach Tim Pierson said. “They have a pretty good tailback ” (Matt) Ramirez. He runs the ball real effectively. He’s not a big kid, but he makes one cut and goes. Their fullback is a stud. They have a great quarterback who throws high-percentage passes.”
Vail Christian knows the only way to stop Haxtun is to stay disciplined defensively.
“The key is tackle well, and fill the gaps,” junior Kieran Hurtt said. “We have to make sure we handle all of our assignments.”
On the other side of the ball, the Saints could score some points against a Fighting Bulldogs defense that gives up 27 points per game, admittedly against tough competition. Cavanaugh ” who didn’t play in Vail Christian’s only loss of the season ” directs an offense loaded with playmakers. A.J. Burgess and Chris Schmidt form a formidable duo at wide receiver, while Will Parker, Devon Christie and Hurtt do their damage from the backfield.
“It’s so nice to be able to hand the ball off and just watch them run,” said Cavanaugh, who will start at quarterback Saturday. “It makes it so much easier for me.”
The running game has worked all season for Vail Christian. One of the Saints’ best plays is an inside counter to either Parker or Burgess that nets big yardage nearly every time Pierson calls the play. The passing attack is almost as good, with Cavanaugh going to Schmidt more often than not. The threat of run or pass is a big reason for the Saints’ prolific offensive numbers.
“Our counter play works really well with Will (Parker) running because he is so fast,” Cavanaugh said. “Every time we run it, we get like 10 yards almost. Our passing has gotten better throughout the year.”
Another edge in Vail Christian’s favor is home-field advantage. The Fighting Bulldogs play their home games more than four hours away.
“Last year, we went to Merino, which is a four-hour drive,” Hurtt said. “This time, it’s like what, 20 minutes? We also will hopefully get some fans there, too.”
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.
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