Haxtun’s size too much for Vail Christian
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado ” When you play in unquestionably the toughest 8-man league in the state, the postseason can almost seem like a breather.
That’s certainly the case for Haxtun. The Fighting Bulldogs bulldozed Vail Christian (6-2), 44-13, Saturday afternoon at Phelan Field in Eagle-Vail. The victory sends Haxtun on to the next round of the playoffs.
“It’s nice to get out (of the league) because we just pound on each other all year,” Haxtun coach Dave Shafer said. “It makes you a better team.”
The Fighting Bulldogs entered the game with a record of 5-3 overall, and 2-3 in the tough-as-nails Plains League. Haxtun’s losses came against No. 1-ranked Dayspring Christian, No. 4 Merino and No. 8 Caliche. The experience the Fighting Bulldogs gained by playing some of the state’s top teams paid off on Saturday.
“It helps us out a lot being able to see the best,” running back Matt Ramirez said. “You see a lot of good offenses throughout the season. It helps prepare you for everything.”
Haxtun’s size too much
Even before stepping off the bus Saturday, Haxtun had one clear advantage ” its size. The Fighting Bulldogs were bigger than the Saints at nearly every position. The extra muscle helped Haxtun rush for 348 yards, 211 of which came before halftime.
Ramirez led the way for the powerful offense. The senior rushed for 127 yards and five touchdowns in the win.
“My line did very well blocking for me,” Ramirez said. “They opened up some holes. Then my lead backs cleared some guys out of the way.”
Haxtun quickly established its ground game. On their first possession, the Fighting Bulldogs marched 52 yards in five plays, with Ramirez plunging in from five yards out for the early 8-0 lead. Ramirez added two more scores before halftime, and a couple more after the break.
Ramirez wasn’t the only player picking up big chunks of yards on the ground. Fullback Kendall Kroeger went for 100 yards, and quarterback Austin Ochola added another 98.
“They are a big physical team,” Vail Christian coach Tim Pierson said. “We don’t see that kind of size in our league. We’re comparable, it’s just tough to prepare for in two weeks.”
When Haxtun went to the air, it was perfect ” literally. Ochola flashed an strong, accurate arm. The senior finished the game 8-of-8 for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Saints play hard
Vail Christian trailed 30-0 in the second quarter, but the Saints still did everything they could to get back in the game. Quarterback Larry Cavanaugh went to his favorite target, Chris Schmidt, to get Vail Christian on the scoreboard. First, the duo hooked up for a 57-yard completion to give the Saints first-and-goal at the 5-yard line. Three plays later, Schmidt made a great, one-handed catch on a fade to the corner of the end zone for the TD.
In the fourth quarter, Cavanaugh found Will Parker on a flag pattern for the Saints last touchdown of the game. Cavanaugh finished the game 14-of-32 for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Vail Christian, Haxtun picked off three of his passes ” two by Ramirez ” hurting any chance at a comeback.
“I was just playing center field, playing the deep pass, and reading the quarterback’s eyes,” said Ramirez, of his two picks.
Haxtun limited Vail Christian to 234 yards on total offense in the game. The normally-stellar Saints rushing attack only gained 69 yards rushing against the Fighting Bulldogs physical front.
“(Vail Christian’s) got some good kids,” Shafer said. “Our defense stepped up. If you’re going to go far in the playoffs, the defense has to step up and play. Defense wins playoff games.”
The first-round playoff loss does little to diminish the accomplishments of the Saints this season. After losing its first game of the year, Vail Christian won six-straight games and captured the Central League title.
“It was an exciting season,” Pierson said. “Nobody can ever take that Central League title away from us. It’s ours. It’s an honor to have. We are grateful for that.”
The loss ends the careers of seniors A.J. Burgess, Kelly Lowry, Elliot Ristow, Parker and Schmidt.
“The seniors have a special part in my heart,” Pierson said. “It’s always tough to see those guys go. The good part is, you get to see them leave and go on and become men. That’s a positive thing.”
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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