West Grand football: Mustangs earn fourth straigh win, 41-19 | SkyHiNews.com

West Grand football: Mustangs earn fourth straigh win, 41-19

by Larry Banman
Sky-Hi Daily News

There are a variety of ways in which a football team can score touchdowns.

The West Grand High School Mustangs utilized four of those options to score six touchdowns in an impressive 41-19 victory on Saturday over the Lake County Panthers in Leadville.

Four of the touchdowns came on plays of more than 40 yards as the Mustangs turned a first-half battle into a runaway victory.

It was the fourth straight win of the year for West Grand as the Mustangs now prepare to enter Western Slope League play this Friday night in a home game against Meeker.

The defense scored twice on long plays. In the first half, defensive lineman Will Elliott raced 62 yards after he stripped the ball from a

Lake County ball carrier. In the second half, safety Matt Johnson intercepted a Panther pass and ran for a touchdown of just over 40 yards.

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Quarterback Tim Ritschard had his best performance of the season, as he completed five of nine passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.

Stetson Sabados slipped behind the Panther secondary for a 53-yard touchdown pass to score the first touchdown of the game and Sky Handyside eluded tacklers to score a 46-yard touchdown in the second half. On that play, fellow receiver Drew Klotz threw a key block to spring Handyside for the score.

The other two touchdowns were scored on the ground by Connor Widener and Justin Strang on short runs.

Handyside was successful on five of six PAT kicks to account for the remainder of the points scored by West Grand.

The first half was a back-and-forth struggle between the two teams. Although the Mustangs led 14-13 at intermission, the Panthers had shown the ability to run the ball effectively against West Grand.

The Mustangs opened the game with an impressive drive that featured the running of Widener and an 18-yard completion from Ritshard to Handyside. West Grand drove to a first and goal, but the Panther defense was able to keep the Mustangs out of the endzone.

The Panthers then drove the length of the field for a touchdown and a successful PAT kick. It was to be the only score of the first quarter and Lake County enjoyed a 7-0 lead in their homecoming contest.

It has been the character of this Mustang team this season that it responds favorably when faced with adversity. West Grand took the ensuing kickoff and scored on a seven-play drive that covered 80 yards. The first 27 yards were gained on runs by Widener, Ritschard and Strang.

Lightning struck when Ritschard threw a perfect pass to Sabados who caught the ball in stride and raced for a 53-yard score.

After getting the kickoff in favorable position, Lake County appeared to be moving for another score when the Panthers tried to convert a fourth down play. Led by linebackers Widener and Strang, the Mustang defense stopped the fourth-down play in its tracks.

What was a good play turned into a great play when Elliott suddenly emerged from the pile with the ball. The senior lineman hoofed it 62 yards for the endzone and highstepped out of the final tackle attempt to fulfill every lineman’s dream of scoring a touchdown.

On the next drive by the Panthers of Lake County, they were able to again drive down the field on the strength of its rushing attack. The Panthers scored on a seven-yard run but missed the PAT. The Mustangs maintained a slim 14-13 lead and fans were pondering if the game would come down to a crucial play, penalty or turnover.

The game was played under a variety of weather conditions. The were a few sprinkles of rain early in the game and the wind blew throughout the contest. There were also times when the sun broke through the clouds, the wind stopped and the fans were treated to breathtaking views of the Collegiate Peaks.

At halftime, the coaching staff made some defensive adjustments to stop what had been a very effective rushing attack by the Panthers.

Later, the coaching staff said Lake County had made some changes in how it ran its offense. For one half, those changes were very effective.

In the second half, the adjustments made by the coaching staff and better tackling by the Mustang players proved to be a lethal combination. Other than a single drive by Lake County which was aided by one long pass, West Grand completely stymied the Panther attack.

Defensive linemen Cory Burr, Curtis Frederickson, A.J. Silva, Elliott were solid run stoppers. Defensive ends Handyside, Travis Smith and Luke Miller combined to contain the sweep plays that had been so effective in the first half. The ends either made the tackles or forced the play back to the middle where linebackers Widener and Strang made sure-handed tackles.

Forced to pass, Lake County found the defense of the secondary of the Mustangs to also be solid. Cornerbacks Sabados and Drew Klotz and safety Johnson combined to defuse the aerial attack of the Panthers.

Johnson had interceptions on two consecutive passes. The first he returned for 42 yards and a score and the second he returned for 20 yards to set up the final touchdown for West Grand.

The Mustangs rode a balanced offensive attack throughout the game. Widener and Strang were the workhorses of the rushing attack as they combined for 183 yards on 38 carries. Widener had 123 yards on 23 carries while Strang gained 60 yards on his 15 attempts. Each was rewarded by scoring a touchdown.

The rushing attack gained a total of 200 yards to go with the 151 yards gained through the air. It was the most balanced attack of the season for the Mustangs.

Handyside grabbed two passed for 64 yards and Widener had one catch for five yards. Sabados had two catches for 82 yards. His second grab was an acrobatic catch which he made by grabbing it off of the helmet of a Lake County defender. Making the catch more dramatic was that it came on a fourth-down play and set up a one-yard touchdown run by Widener.

Each time West Grand found itself in a hole, it responded with a score or a defensive stop. Head coach Chris Brown noted that this team has displayed that character from the first game.

“These guys don’t get down on each other and they get along,” he said. “They work together and have displayed good character.”

The Mustangs now enter league play. Based on early season play, Hayden appears to

be the strongest team with Hotchkiss right behind.

Due to a key injury to its quarterback, Meeker’s hopes may have slipped a bit, but it remains a strong team. West Grand joins Rangely and Paonia as teams hoping to take advantage of any slip by the top three teams.

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