There were not many offensive highlights during the Continental League opener between Douglas County and Mountain Vista on Sept. 26 at Shea Stadium.
It was a defensive struggle, and Douglas County's Huskies prevailed with a 10-7 triumph over the Golden Eagles.
“It wasn't about the highlights, it was about the win,” said Douglas County senior linebacker Zach Barlow. “It felt great. I knew from last week the defense had to step up and bounce back. We did and we pulled it off. There's nothing better than coming out with a W.”
Douglas County, 4-1 overall, lost its first game of the season Sept. 20, when Rocky Mountain notched a 42-21 upset over a Huskies squad that was ranked fifth in the state at the time.
“Our defense, considering how we played against Rocky Mountain — which wasn't very well — came out with an attitude and beat a pretty good team,” said Douglas County coach Jeff Ketron. “It wasn't pretty if you like offense, but defensively I thought it was a masterpiece.”
Barlow paced the Douglas County defensive effort with 10 tackles. The Huskies had six quarterback sacks, with Tomatea Bartlett credited with 2.5 sacks. Mountain Vista punted six times and turned the ball over on downs twice in the second half.
Mountain Vista finished with 133 yards total offense while the Huskies managed to gain 237 yards. In the scoreless second half, the teams combined for 139 yards in total offense, with the Golden Eagles limited to just 28 yards.
“We only rushed three and the defensive line just played hard,” explained Ketron. “We tell our kids all the time, it's not a magic trick. You have to work for success, it's earned and not given, and that's what they did.”
Douglas County scored on its first drive of the game, with Trey Smith scoring on a 54-yard run. It was a vintage sprint for Smith, the 6-foot-1 senior who has committed to play for Colorado State.
Smith, who rushed for 133 yards on 21 carries, took a pitch, raced around the corner, cut back and outran Mountain Vista defenders into the end zone.
“Hips, hips and gone, that looked pretty good,” said Ketron.
Wyatt Bryan tacked on the extra-point kick after Smith's scoring scamper, then Bryan kicked a 47-yard field goal on the Huskies' next possession as Douglas County went ahead 10-0 with 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Mountain Vista, aided by two Douglas County penalties, drove 80 yards in 14 plays and cut the Huskies lead to 10-7 after Nick Schmalz scored on a 2-yard run.
Schmalz's TD and the extra point by Louie Sawaged with 6:44 to play in the second quarter were the last points scored in the game.
“One mistake here and one breakdown here and we are staring at another defensive battle loss,” said Mountain Vista coach Ric Cash, who has watched his team lose its past two games by a total of four points. “It's one of those things where time is going to help us, but as the season progresses we are starting to run out of time. We've got to get it right. We'll work on it. I'm proud of our boys on how hard they fight and how hard they play.”
Tyler Spond was in on 13 tackles to spark the Mountain Vista defensive effort. Luke Nelson and Preston Troxel each were credited with 11 total tackles.
The Golden Eagles had a couple chances to mount a second-half comeback.
After recovering a bad pitch in the third quarter at the Huskies' 39-yard line, Mountain Vista moved to a first down at the 25-yard line but wound up turning the ball over on downs at the 25 as Barlow sparked the defensive stand with two tackles for losses.
Mountain Vista had a first down at the Huskies' 41-yard line with 1:48 to play in the game, but the Golden Eagles lost 13 yards on the next four plays.
Golden Eagles quarterback Brock Rubley was thrown for losses three times and he tossed an incomplete pass.
“A minute to go we were in position to win it,” said Cash. “We just have to not shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Douglas County, 4-1 overall, played without standout tackle Jamin, Smith but he could possibly return in two weeks from an injured knee.
“It was like the first victory of the year,” said Ketron. “You have to get that first victory. Now you can settle down and play. The same thing happens in the league. We only have four games left and we have three straight at home. We have Regis (Oct. 4), then ThunderRidge (Oct. 11) and Highlands Ranch (Oct. 17), so we just have to keep getting better.”
Douglas County finishes the regular season Oct. 24 on the road against Chaparral.
Mountain Vista, 2-4, plays Chaparral Oct. 4, and Cash is hoping his injury list is reduced.
Running back Tanner Smith is lost for the season. Standout wide receiver Rocco Palumbo saw limited action against Douglas County because of an ankle injury, and running back Michael Evans, who had run for 36 yards on four carries, left the game in the first quarter after twisting his ankle.
“It makes it a struggle offensively and puts a lot of pressure on some kids that shouldn't have that much pressure, shouldn't have to bear that burden,” said Cash. “I know the offensive line feels like it's all their fault and it's not. It's a team game.”