BROOMFIELD — It was just one of those days where you just take your hat off to the other team.
On a sunny late November Saturday afternoon at Mike G. Gabriel Stadium in the Class 3A state playoffs, the Durango Demons made the most of their lengthy bus ride from the southwest corner of the state and punched their first ticket to the state title game since 1988 with a 34-14 win over Holy Family.
“Right now, it hurts,” senior quarterback Michael White said. “It really hurts.”
The second-seeded Tigers finish a strange 2020 season 7-1 and were one game shy of making their first state title appearance since 2005. Durango (7-0) advances to the state title game for the first time since 1988 (a 23-13 loss to Grand Junction in the 3A final) and will play top-seeded Roosevelt next Saturday in Pueblo at 2 p.m.
The visiting Demons, who took care of Lutheran in the quarterfinals, established themselves on their very first possession. A 12-play 80-yard drive that highlighted the rumored University of Colorado bound quarterback Jordan Woolverton and the versatile Ben Finneseth culminated in a 14-yard end around from Gage Maestas to open the scoring.
Holy Family, which didn’t play from behind all season, simply never had an answer offensively. The Tigers went three-and-out on four of their first five possessions and were intercepted by Woolverton on the other.
“They just came out faster and harder than we did,” said White, who finished just 12-of-30 for 155 yards and two interceptions. “The whole year we were focused on being the more intense team and that first half we just didn’t have it.
“And it is hard to come back against a team like that.”
Durango, after two back-to-back stalled drives, took advantage of a short field after a Liam Gray punt from the back of the end zone set them up a the Tigers 40-yard line. Finneseth took the very next snap the distance and the lead grew to 14-0.
With another chance to respond, the Tigers turned the ball over on the next possession (the Woolverton interception) and set up shop inside the Holy Family red zone. Three plays later — on a fourth down — Woolverton went in from eight yards out to make it a three score game.
How tough was the sledding for the Tigers in the first half?
The ran a total of 20 plays for just 37 yards and just one first down.
With a whole second half ahead of them, Holy Family appeared to make the necessary adjustments at halftime on the offensive side of the ball. But after not only crossing midfield for the first time in the game, Holy Family took it inside the red zone before the drive stalled. White was sacked on fourth down by Kyler Reimers to give any sort of momentum the Tigers might have had back to the Demons.
They instantly capitalized.
A back breaking 11 play drive that ate up nearly five minutes of valuable second half clock, saw Woolverton hit Maestas for a 37 yard score. It was 28-0 Durango at that point.
Holy Family finally got on the board at the end of the third quarter. White hit Oscar Sena for a 15-yard score to cut the lead to 28-7. On the very next drive in the fourth quarter, the Tigers made it a two score game on Liam Gray’s 3-yard touchdown reception.
“At halftime, we knew we just had to settle down and play our game, and we were actually feeling pretty comfortable,” White said. “That first drive, that was the type of football we needed to play the rest of the game, but it just wasn’t enough. It was too little too late.”
Durango capped the scoring in the fourth on a Woolverton 53-yard run. The quarterback finished with 155 yards on 17 carries. Finneseth was equally as impressive with 16 carries and 159 yards.
Tigers running back Trevin Johnson, who wouldn’t leave the game despite an aching foot, finished with just 38 yards on 14 carries. The Demons bottled up Matt Mollendor as well, and held him to just 13 yards on four carries.
The Tigers have nothing to hang their heads about after the shortened season limited them to just six regular season games. Holy Family won a Colorado League title and hosted two playoff games for the first time in a long time.
And sure it hurts right now, but the Tigers will be able to look back on this bizarre season and smile knowing they accomplished something that a lot of people outside of their own locker room didn’t think was possible.
(3) DURANGO 34, (2) HOLY FAMILY 14
At Mike G. Gabriel Stadium
Durango (7-0) 7 14 7 6 — 34
Holy Family (7-1) 0 0 7 7 — 14
Durango — Gage Maestas 14 run (Sam Carozza kick).
Durango — Ben Finneseth 40 run (Carozza kick).
Durango — Jordan Woolverton 8 run (Carozza kick).
Durango — Maestas 37 pass from Woolverton (Carozza kick).
Holy Family — Oscar Sena 15 pass from Michael White (Liam Gray kick).
Holy Family — Gray 3 pass from White (Gray kick).
Durango — Woolverton 53 run (kick failed).
Rushing — Durango: Ben Finneseth 16-159, Jordan Woolverton 17-155, Nate Messier 3-23, Jeric Baruch 5-14, Gage Maestas 1-14, Jordan Stanley 3-0; Holy Family: Trevin Johnson 14-38, Matt Mollendor 4-13, Liam Gray 1-1, Michael White 1-(minus-13).
Passing — Durango: Woolverton 7-14-0-65; Holy Family: White 12-30-2-155.
Receiving: Durango: Maestas 3-54, Stanley 1-6, Chase Robertson 1-6, Finneseth 2-(minus-1); Holy Family: Gray 6-75, Oscar Sena 4-72, Johnson 2-8.