West Grand High School football: Eagles too much for West Grand Mustangs in league battle | SkyHiNews.com

West Grand High School football: Eagles too much for West Grand Mustangs in league battle

by Larry Banman
Sky-Hi Daily News
Kremmling, Colorado

The West Grand Mustangs ran into another Western Slope juggernaut on Friday night and fell to the Paonia Eagles, 47-0, in action on the road in the North Fork Valley.

The Mustangs of West Grand tied to hold their own against the Eagles, but turnovers and injuries to key players were too much to overcome.

By the end of the first half, quarterback Tim Ritschard, fullback Connor Widener, tailback Justin Strang and wide receiver Stetson Sabados were all sidelined with injuries. Widener, Strang and Sabados are also starters on defesne for the Mustangs.

West Grand has also been without the services of all-league performer Jake Motz since the second game of the year, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Motz was a starter at tailback and at defensive end.

In the turnover department, Sabados helped prevent an early score by Paonia when he intercepted a Taylor Bradford pass in the endzone. It was the first of two turnovers which were forced by the Mustang defense. Drew Klotz recovered a fumble later in the first half.

It is apparently the year of big, fast tailbacks in the Western Slope League. Paonia’s version is 6’3″, 190 lb. Jordan Van Vleet. At that size, Van Vleet is larger than all but a handfull of Mustang defenders. Some observers believe him to be even faster that Ethan Coe of Hotchkiss, who raced for over 200 yards against West Grand in the game played the previous week.

The game seemed to be starting on a high note for West Grand when Strang boomed a kickoff to the three-yard line of Paonia where the fleet Van Vleet settled under the kick. Taking the ball up the right sideline, Van Vleet eluded the first wave of tacklers and then race virtually untouched for a 97-yard touchdown. Lucas Wiggins tacked on the PAT and it was quickly, 7-0, in favor of Paonia.

Paonia sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds and the Mustangs had decent field position. However, after two running plays which netted four yards, Ritschard saw his pass intercepted by Josh Burns of Paonia and returned to the West Grand 11-yard line. Paonia seemed poised to score and had one apparent touchdown nullified by penalty. It was on this series that Sabados stepped in front of a Bradford aerial to put an end to the scoring threat.

Since the Sabados interception was a touchback, the Mustangs had the ball on their own 20-yard line. Paonia created another turnover when, on the second play from scrimmage, Bradford intercepted a Ritschard pass on the West Grand 31-yard line. As is typical of small-town football, many players are on both offense and defense. In addition to quarterbacking the Eagles, Bradford also plays in the defensive backfield.

The Mustang defense gave up yards grudgingly and stopped two plays inside the 10-yard line. However, on third-and-goal Van Vleet took a toss sweep from Bradford and he raced into the endzone. Wiggins’ successful PAT pushed the score to 14-0.

Freshman Travis Gore returned the Paonia kickoff 14-yards to the West Grand 27-yard line. The teams then traded turnovers. Wiggins intercepted a halfback pass thrown by Strang and then Klotz had a fumble recovery. After that fumble recovery by Klotz, the Mustangs put together their best drive of the first half. On a wideout screen pass, called a bubble screen by some people, Ritschard threw a beautiful pass to Klotz who raced 22 yards to the Paonia 48-yard line.

It just wasn’t to be this night, however, as the Mustangs first lost Ritschard for the night when he took a helmet-to-helmet hit. Sky Handyside stepped in at quarterback and the senior, who has been playing tight end all year, was intercepted on a third-and-long play.

After the teams traded ends of the field at the end of the first quarter, Casey Gillenwater, a sophmore, stepped in at quarter back for Paonia and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Bradford, who move to wideout on the play. After a successful Wiggins kick, the score was 21-0 in favor of the Eagles.

On the next possesion by West Grand, the Mustangs were stopped and forced to punt, but Strang boomed a 71-yard kick to pin the Eagles back on their own three-yard line. However, that just seemed to give Van Vleet more room to operate. After a couple of plays moved the ball to the 23-yard line, Van Vleet took a handoff and raced to West Grand’s 25-yard line. The Mustang defense tightened a bit and forced a field goal attempt from Paonia. Wiggin’s 35-yard kick was true and the score increased to 24-0 in favor of Paonia.

On the next series, Paonia scored again after a interception by defensive lineman Jordan Maughn. The PAT was unsuccessful and the Eagles led at halftime, 30-0.

During the second half, both team substituted liberally and freshman from both sides saw extensive playing time. After the Eagles scored on a 22-yard touchdown by Josh Burns and a 33-yard field goal by Wiggins, the score was 40-0 and the running clock was instituted. With just over five minutes left in the game, Adrian Lopez, a freshman running back for Paonia, ran for a touchdown of just over 20 yards.

The Mustangs hope to catch a break this week as they play a homecoming game against Rangely on Friday night. The Panthers have not been having much success in the Western Slope League either and the two teams figure to provide a close game. After Friday night’s game, the Mustangs saw their record drop to 4-3 and 0-3 in league play. The following week, West Grand will play its last game of the regular season on the road against Hayden, which was beaten soundly this past weekend by Hotchkiss.

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