Ducking his head out into Ignacio High School’s main office Thursday afternoon, athletic director Leo Garand sought out Bobcat football head coach Alfonso Garcia to inform him of an unusual inquiry.
“Anybody see where ‘Ponch’ went to?” Garand inquired. “Valor Christian just sent us a message: they’re looking for a game.”
“Against their freshman team, right?” quipped assistant coach Don Hayes, also present near the receptionist’s desk.
Sure to have enjoyed a chuckle when told of the vaunted Class 5A machine’s apparent interest in a 1A program located in the distant southwest, but also likely to have given it a curious what-if think, Garcia’s focus was firmly on the challenge venturing to IHS Field for this Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff.
And no punches were pulled in assessing sixth-ranked Colorado Springs Christian School, a squad which in recent weeks has posted Valor-esque numbers while winning three consecutive contests.
“I’m hoping that they drove all morning, hopefully a rough drive here,” Garcia joked. “It’s going to be a very tough game for us, a very tough test after our bye week.”
Long removed and mostly healed from a 22-13 loss in Walsenburg to John Mall back on Sept. 20, Garcia emphasized the Bobcats (1-3) will again need to show their ability to control the ball in order to keep the loaded Lions at bay.
“We’ve had a pretty intense two weeks of practice, so we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “We’ve got a little plan; I guess you could call it ‘keep-away.’ Keep the ball away from them as long as we can, try to take not necessarily the game away from them but slow the game down to give us an opportunity to be successful.”
Like always, Garcia expects the Bobcats to compete, no matter how mighty the opponent.
“I think our kids are going to step up to the challenge, and hopefully, it’s a game instead of a blowout,” Garcia said. “Last year, we showed up and we only had 13 kids. And by halftime, it was already a running clock; we don’t want that to happen.”
Defeated 49-0 by CSCS out in El Paso County last fall, another point pile-up unfortunately could occur should IHS struggle in protecting the ball or again show vulnerability defensively to either a singular talent – such as John Mall running back Wesley Van Matre – or several standouts, such as CSCS junior quarterback Caleb Stockton, senior running back Peyton Brones and junior running back Joe Dunn.
Having combined for six touchdowns and nearly 300 yards rushing during the 2018 rout, Brones and Dunn are already approaching a combined 800 yards in 2019, with eight TDs. With more than 300 yards and five TDs passing, Stockton is also a threat to run, having accumulated well over 200 yards, with five carries ending up in the end zone.
“We’re just going to be ourselves. Every game we play, we train for that team specifically,” said Garcia. “They run a spread offense; they’re going to have four (receivers), sometimes an empty backfield; that’s how much they trust their quarterback. Their offensive line is big and physical, so it’s going to be a battle.”
A rumble in which the skipper jokingly said even a kitchen-sink approach wouldn’t be enough.
“We’re going to throw the kitchen at ’em!” he said. “We’re going to try to do what we can to slow them down. Hopefully, we make tackles this time.”
With their only loss this season coming in their Sept. 6 season-opener at Holyoke (presently 4-0 and No. 3 in the rankings), the 3-1 Lions have since pounded Peyton (32-14), punished Platte Canyon (41-0) in Bailey, and eviscerated Ellicott (55-8) in gaining momentum for not only the long journey into the Pine River Valley, but their Tri-Peaks Conference opener next weekend versus Buena Vista and beyond.
Incredibly, entering the weekend, the Tri-Peaks’ teams stand a combined 15-5 overall, led by 4-0 unbeatens Rye and fourth-ranked Florence, with Buena Vista matching Colorado Springs Christian’s record.
Offensively, Garcia said to expect a large dose of left-handed sophomore Gabe Tucson at quarterback, allowing right-handed senior incumbent Ian Weinreich to bolster the Bobcats’ hurting receiver corps. Junior Dylan Labarthe was unavailable for the John Mall game, and sophomore Shawn Campbell reportedly sustained a first-half concussion.
Otherwise, Ignacio will again rely heavily on their thunder-and-lightning backfield duo of juniors Joe Garcia and Lawrence Toledo to advance the ball on the ground, with senior Colten Jackson likely getting the majority of aerial looks.
“For me, it’s like a rewind from my youth. It’s kind of cool,” Garcia said of the college-like afternoon start against a high-caliber opponent. “But it’s going to be a fun game. We are playing against a very big, physical squad. They’re very athletic, and I’m hoping we’re ready for the task. Our kids have grown, made big strides; we want to be able to compete.”
With Southern Peaks Conference play starting next Friday at Center, there’s no time like the present to begin.