The West Grand Mustang football team took a huge step forward in its quest for a league championship with a dramatic, 32-28, victory over the Hayden Tigers on Friday night, Oct. 5.
The victory, which was achieved in Hayden, could end up having significant post-season ramifications. Depending upon the outcome of the final two games of the season, the Mustangs have a 3-0 record in league play and have the inside track for a more favorable berth for the crossover games that start Oct. 19.
By upsetting the Tigers, West Grand is now in sole possession of first place in the Western Slope League. Hayden had already defeated Rangely and Soroco this season and was the preseason favorite to take the title.
It was an old-fashioned matchup this past Friday night in Hayden as each team went toe-to-toe and gave the other team its best shot. The Mustangs scored on their first possession and led after the first quarter, 12-7, only to see Hayden rebound and take a 21-12 lead at halftime. The third quarter featured three West Grand touchdowns as the Mustangs took the lead, 32-28. The final frame was scoreless as West Grand withstood every challenge and held on for the important victory.
The Mustangs gained 450 yards of total offense and were led in rushing by junior quarterback Nick Ritschard, who had 252 yards on 40 carries. Leo Pesch, who left the game with an injury, gained 64 yards on 17 carries. As usual, his were the "up-the-gut" tough yards that sustained drives or kept the opposition off balance.
Casey Gore had perhaps his best game of the season as he caught five passes for 104 yards and one touchdown. In passing statistics, Ritschard was seven for 21 for 113 total yards. Cole Tracy played well in several roles on both offense and defense and caught one pass for a PAT.
In addition to Gore's touchdown catch, Ritschard ran for three scores and Pesch added the other touchdown on a one-yard touchdown run.
In the first half, the Mustangs scored on their first possession on a 61-yard drive when Ritschard ran from the one-yard line. Pesch gained 30-yards on the drive and Ritschard had a 26-yard run as West Grand moved smartly downfield.
At the end of the first quarter, West Grand scored again when Ritschard ran it in from the 14-yard line to regain the lead at 12-7. That drive was set up when Javier Castillo fell on a Hayden fumble.
In the second quarter the Tigers scored twice to earn the 21-12 halftime advantage.
The Mustangs made a statement early in the third quarter, when Derrin Weaver caused a fumble that was scooped up by Dillon Willson at the Hayden 21-yard line. West Grand capitalized when Ritschard ran it in from the five-yard line and then found Tracy in the endzone for the successful PAT to bring the Mustangs within one point of the Tigers.
Hayden was able to respond with its own touchdown to increase its lead to 28-20 on a quarterback sneak.
However, the resilient squad from Kremmling was able to put together a 78-yard drive to answer the challenge. Pesch capped off the drive with a one-yard dive into paydirt. Key plays in the drive were a 23-yard pass to Gore, a pass interference call in the endzone against the Tigers and a 20-yard Ritschard run.
The Mustangs then forced a Tiger punt and scored on a 54-yard drive, culminating with a 10-yard pass to Gore. That score, with just under 16-seconds in the third quarter, was to be the final tally of the game for either squad.
The key drive of the fourth quarter by the Mustangs didn't result in any points, but ate up over five and half minutes of the game clock.
Hayden's last ditch effort was stopped when Tracy stopped a Hayden receiver short of the down marker on a fourth-down play with just over a minute left in the game.
Ritschard took a knee twice and the victory for the Mustangs was secured.
The Mustangs still have to play two league teams that are sporting better records than West Grand. First up is Vail Christian, which has a 5-1 mark and is smarting from a 30-6 defeat at the hands of the Rangely Panthers. The final regular season game for the Mustangs will be against long-time rival SoRoCo, which easily defeated South Park 48-6 this past weekend. The Rams currently have a record of 4-2, compared the West Grand's 3-3 mark.
The home game against Vail Christian is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Friday night in Kremmling.
West Grand High School lost a match this past Saturday to a tough and experienced squad from Vail Mountain.
The players from Vail Mountain play throughout the year in club volleyball action, Coach Elizabeth Bauer noted, and bring that experience to high school competition.
Coach Bauer said the Mustangs of West Grand played well, but were not aggressive enough to overcome the solid team from Vail Mountain. West Grand lost the match in four games, but each game was close throughout.
"I felt that seniors Laura Billington, Katie Sanford and Kristina Ekren, in particular, stayed aggressive and never backed down," Coach Bauer added. "Their leadership is key. I am proud that we never quit playing and continued to challenge our opponent as a team."
Against Vail Mountain this past Saturday, the C-team battled back and forth but ended up losing the match. The junior varsity squad played at a high level and the players challenged themselves to rise above the competition. "It is fun to see the JV girls try new hits and serves to elevate their game," Bauer said.
"This week we have a big week with three matches," Coach Bauer said. "Right now, in our league, anything can happen and any team can be beat. We have to bring our "A-game" if we want to win this weekend."