Mustangs, Cougars set for weekend match-up at state
The West Grand Mustangs have a date with destiny on Saturday, driving up to Julesburg to take on the Sedgwick County Cougars in the CHSAA 8-Man Football State Championship Game. In a true battle of the titans, both teams are looking to close out perfect seasons.
While the Mustangs have been dominant all season, they face their toughest test on Saturday. Not only are the Cougars the number one ranked 8-man team in the state, they’re also seeking their third straight state championship title under Head Coach Chris Michel, and haven’t lost a game since Sept. 16 of last year.
“We’re going against a really good team,” said Chris Brown, head coach at West Grand. “They’re just really solid. They run to the football on defense extremely well. They run a variety of things of offense. They’ve got some size and speed, and can run or throw.”
The Mustangs are no strangers to the State Championship Game, however. This is the sixth time West Grand has earned their way to the big game under Brown, taking home the title twice before. And neither coach is interested in underestimating their opponent.
Sedgwick County Coach Chris Michel said the key to defeating the Mustangs will be trying to make them sustain long drives down the field, not allowing West Grand’s quick strike offence any breathing room.
“They’ve got three or four guys that can take it to the house pretty much any time if they get a little bit of a crease,” said Michel. “So that’s going to be the biggest thing is just trying to limit big plays. I don’t think they’re a team that you can stop their offense, but you’ve got to at least slow it down.”
Michel’s not wrong. Leading the West Grand offense into the championship is Junior Luis Dominguez, who has taken over this postseason, rushing for 316-yards and five touchdowns in the last two contests. Dominguez tallied 937-yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground this season while playing second fiddle in the run game to Hugh Wheatley. He also threw for 310-yards and four touchdowns.
Junior Running Back Hugh Wheatley, the catalyst for the Mustangs’ offense most of the season, suffered a shoulder injury on his first carry against Soroco last week. He’s considered questionable to play in the Championship Game, and his absence could mean trouble for the Mustangs.
Wheatley led the team in all-purpose yards, accumulating 987 on the ground and 410 receiving. He also scored 18 touchdowns on the year, and played a good defensive back, intercepting five passes.
“We hope and think he might play this weekend,” said Brown. “He’s a two way player for us, so that hurts of course. He had been all we needed at running back, but Luis [Dominguez] has been doing really well for us.”
Brown said that he isn’t worried about potentially having to rely heavier on his passing game if the rushing attack isn’t getting the job done, in part because of a reinvigorated Senior Wide Receiver Jake Bentler. Brown noted that Bentler had been playing banged up for several weeks, but looked explosive in the win last week, catching three passes for 84-yards and two touchdowns.
Fellow Senior Wide Receiver Luke Mogck can also be a threat, leading the team with 553 receiving yards and five touchdown catches on the year.
Mustangs’ Quarterback Brady Gore hasn’t been asked to carry the load for the most part this season, but it coming off of his busiest game to date, completing 7-of-14 passes for 131-yards and two touchdowns in the semifinal win against Soroco.
“We can throw the ball,” said Brown. “We’ve got Mogck and Bentler. Jake had about a five game stretch where he was out there and not 100 percent. And against Soroco he caught two TD’s and was 100 percent. We can throw the ball and we have no problem doing that. We’ve just got to mix in both.
On the defensive side of the ball Senior Linebacker Josh O’hotto and Nose Tackle Noah Schroeder will be tasked with slowing down a powerhouse Cougar offense, led by Junior Running Back Layne Green.
Green is an absolute beast, rushing for 1,525-yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging almost 11 yards-per-carry. Over the last two contests he rushed for 511-yards and six touchdowns, powering the Cougars to the championship.
“He runs hard and he’s got pretty good speed,” said Michel of his star running back. “Not blazing speed by any means, but he’s big enough that he can break tackles, then when he gets in the open field he can outrun some guys. He’s a big, physical kid that runs hard.”
The Mustangs will have to find a way to contain the run game, perhaps a daunting task after giving up 297-yards on the ground to Sargent in the quarterfinal matchup and getting gashed by Soroco Running Back Jace Logan for 207-yards and two touchdowns last week.
Sedgwick County is no slouch through the air either. Cougar Quarterback Brennan Ehmke threw for 1,627-yards and 20 touchdowns against just four interceptions this season.
While the game is yet to be decided, both teams have proven they belong at the top of the pack all season. In 12 games West Grand is outscoring opponents 488 to 80, while Sedgwick County has outscored opponents 467 to 114 in 11 games.
The Mustangs and Cougars have only faced one common opponent all season. The Mustangs defeated the Rangely Panthers 46-0, while the Cougars beat the Panthers 40-16.
The Mustangs and Cougars square off at 1 p.m. at Julesburg High School on Saturday.
“We’ll have to be on top of our game to have a shot,” said Brown. “But we’re going to give it a heck of a go and see what happens.”
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The Colorado Department of Transportation has closed Colorado Highway 125 in Grand County while crews work to clear the route of mud, debris and snagged trees piled up on various bridges and guardrails.