Saints begin the "playons’
Please do not call them the playoffs.
“They’re the playons,” Vail Christian 8-man football head coach Bob Isbell said. “Why would you call them the playoffs? That kind of has a negative note to it. The guy that loses is out of there. The only one that gets to play on is the one who’s the winner. So, we just started calling them the playons.”
That having been said, welcome to round one of the 2003 8-Man State Football Playons as Vail Christian (8-0) hosts Genoa-Hugo (5-3) Saturday at 1:30 p.m., at Huskies Stadium.
You’d think that a team coming off a bye week, going in the playoffs, er, playons would be chomping at the bit to hit the field. But, at Vail Christian, these Saints have been waiting a bit longer for this moment.
“We’ve been ready for about four years for this,” Saints senior center/linebacker John McGee said. “Since freshman year, we’ve been looking forward to this one.”
“Oh, it’s on,” said fellow linebacker Nate Simon, with a serious emphasis on the “Oh.”
“Really, we’ve been talking about it for the last three or four weeks about how this is going to be a good, tough, physical football game,” Isbell said. “No matter who you’re playing in the playoffs, you’re going to play a good opponent.”
Uh, Bob, it’s the playons.
Getting playon ready
And, that is a real concern for Vail Christian. The Saints have not played a solid football team since beating Silver State, 36-6, on Sept. 20. In its last three games, Vail Christian has put up 204 points against the likes of Maranatha Christian, DeBeque and Gilpin County, none of whom could be confused with a football powerhouse.
“Going into this game, we know that this is going to be the best team we’ve played so far,” quarterback P.J. Bevan said. “Our league is considerably weaker than the others. That doesn’t make us a weaker team. We really think we can win the whole thing.”
To that end, since most of Vail Christian’s starters haven’t played a full game since Silver State, the Saints have been working harder in practice during the last few weeks than during their games.
“The last three weeks, we’ve really had to pick up our conditioning in practice,” McGee said. “We’ve had to pick up our gassers and running our 40s the last few weeks, so that we have the stamina to play the entire game.”
There’s also the issue of playoff, er, playon experience. Isbell has plenty, but his players don’t. One interesting note is that the Saints do have three players – Bevan, Simon and Matt Heelan – who are familiar with the win-or-you’re-out mentality of the hockey playoffs.
“We’ve won a bunch of games in the playoffs,” Simon said. “But we haven’t won it all, and we’ve had to go home. Knowing that, and having that as an experience, it’s time to take it to another level.”
Meet the Pirates
Genoa-Hugo enters Saturday’s game with a 5-3 mark overall and a 4-3 record in the Plains League. The Pirates’ losses came to Merino (54-19), Stratton (47-14) and Haxtun (45-0).
Do not be deceived by these scores. In the state 8-man rankings, the Rocky Mountain News has Merino No. 2, Stratton No. 4 and Haxtun No. 8. Isbell considers the Plains League to to be the best conference in 8-man football.
If you’re wondering, the Saints are ranked sixth but, as Isbell notes, “that doesn’t score any points.”
So, what you have here is a very hard-nosed bunch of Pirates, who like to run the ball – and how. Of the 447 plays Genoa-Hugo has run this season, 386 of them have been on the ground.
“They run about three different looks,” Isbell said. “They run the “I.’ They run from a lane formation and then an unbalanced formation. Out of those, they have some tendencies that we’re going to try to take advantage of.”
Quarterback Brian Nestor will be the focus of the Vail Christian defense. He’s run the ball 105 times for 876 yards. He is particularly potent when he gets outside, so containment will be the order of the day for the Saints.
“From the film we’ve seen, their quarterback likes to go outside,” McGee said. “And, when he’s outside, he is fast in the open. So, we have to keep containment. Then, he can’t go anywhere.”
Although, Nestor hasn’t thrown much – 24 completions in 41 attempts – he has passed for 472 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He’s the guy who makes the plays happen,” Isbell said. “He’s the one we have to shut down.”
That would be a cue for Andreas Bauer, who leads the Saints with 16 sacks, as well as Kyle Bruntz (four sacks), and Simon and McGee, who lead the team with 74 total tackles each, and their friends.
It’s best also to keep an eye on Pirates’ fullback Dane Wimmer (135 carries for 526 yards) and tailback Shane Stum (107 rushes for 485 yards.)
“We’ve got to be tougher than them,” Simon said, “It all comes down their running backs plowing. They’re supposed to be a tough team. They’re not finesse. We’ve got to stack the line and hit and wrap.”
When the Saints have the ball
During the second half of the season, a Vail Christian drive usually consisted of one or two plays and – touchdown. One of the many exciting things about Saturday’s game is that Vail Christian will actually have to mount some multi-play drives.
The Pirates set up in a 4-2, a formation the Saints have seen a lot of this year.
“We’ve seen a lot of the 4-2,” Bevan said. “We’re going to try to keep it balanced between the pass and the run. We’ve got a lot of weapons.”
Bevan is 41 for 76 for 946 yards through the air with 18 touchdowns and only two picks. His target of choice is usually Rex Roberts, who has 17 catches for 403 yards. But, Bevan is an equal-opportunity passer, having hit Simon, Matt Seatvet and Robbie Brgoch seven times each.
On the ground, it’s Brgoch, who leads the team with 55 carries for 614 yards. Bevan is also a ground threat with 263 yards. Other candidates to run the ball are Simon, Kyle Morris and Bauer, who’s gotten some time at fullback, when he isn’t having quarterbacks for breakfast.
“We’ve got a couple wrinkles that I think we can take advantage of and then, hopefully, take advantage of their weaknesses,” Isbell said.
The Pirates’ defense centers around 230-pound linebacker Cody Fox, who leads his team with 96 total tackles. Also look for Stum (91 tackles) and Wimmer (63 tackles) to be around the ball.
News and notes
The Saints are positively thrilled to be home for a playon game. “Our crowd is a big plus for us and our home stadium, nobody wants to ride a bus six hours and get off and play,” Simon said. … Big crowd please: “It’s the first time since Vail Christian football’s had a playoff game,” Bevan said. “So, we’d like the school and community to support us. We’ll make sure it’s fun and we’ll make sure we try to win.” … It’s world gone McGee. Linebacker John’s in the state football playons and little sis Molly is at the cross country state meet this weekend. … Sidenote: it’s been quite a fall season down in Edwards. “The school is really making its presence felt in the valley. The school’s only something like six years old and the football team won league, the volleyball team finished third and Molly’s down at state,” John McGee said. … Looking around the bracket, Silver State (6-1) hosts No. 8 Haxtun, while North Park (5-3), the Central League’s final qualifier, is at No. 3 Cheyenne Wells. No. 1 Swink (8-0), on the opposite side of the bracket from the Saints, hosts 5-2 La Veta. No. 2 Merino (8-0) hosts Fowler (5-3). … The winner of Saturday’s Vail Christian-Genoa-Hugo game faces the winner of No. 5 Simla vs. Holly. … Pat Phelan will be calling the game Saturday. Don’t worry, Bob, he’ll be using the microphone.
Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or by e-mail at email@example.com.