Bayfield High School will face a first in the opening round of the state football playoffs.
The Wolverines have played 85 different schools in their football history, but they have never played Elizabeth or a team nicknamed the Cardinals, according to Bayfield football historian Dan Ford. That will change at 1 p.m. Saturday, when the third-seeded Wolverines welcome the No. 14 Elizabeth Cardinals in the first round of the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A State Football Playoffs.
"We're all excited. It's November," BHS head coach Gary Heide. "Every high school football team's dream is to play well enough in the year to play in November. Here we are. It's a whole different month. It's one-and-done now, so we can't overlook any player or team."
Bayfield (9-0) and Elizabeth (6-3) both like to run the ball to set up play-action passes later in games. The Cardinals rushed for 2,269 yards as a team in the regular season, while the Wolverines racked up 2,349. Bayfield's defense will be keyed in on Elizabeth's Reece Ullery, who has 1,250 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
But stopping opposing running backs hasn't been a problem for the Wolverines. When facing a 1,000-yard rusher the last two seasons, the Wolverines have held that rusher to fewer than 50 yards on both occasions.
"They're a run-first team," said BHS senior Hunter Killough, who leads the Wolverines with 104 tackles, including 11 for a loss. "Our run defense has always been stout. We're ready to play 'em."
Bayfield's defense was the best in Class 2A in 2017. It allowed only 49 points through nine games and recorded five shutouts. The team has combined for 43 sacks and 21 interceptions. Carl Heide and Killough each have five interceptions. Ryan Phelps leads the state, regardless of classification, with 15 sacks, and Cole Wood has another 11 sacks. Wyatt Killinen also has seven sacks for Bayfield, while Elizabeth only has six sacks as a team all season.
Elizabeth junior quarterback Nicholas Ball might be in for a long day against that pass rush, but he's been accurate when given a chance to throw.
He has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 348 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Ball also has run for 283 yards and one touchdown and has fumbled twice.
Coach Heide compared Elizabeth a bit to Alamosa, who the Wolverines beat 38-0 last week.
"They have very active players," he said. "They really move with aggression all over defensively and offensively. They've got a great running back and a really good quarterback. Even if his stats don't show it, he is a mighty fine quarterback who is a nice thrower and can run it himself.
"Their running back, he's a great rusher with great speed. He's shifty and uses his blockers."
Bayfield junior quarterback Hayden Farmer has had a record-breaking season. He has completed 56.3 percent of his passes for a BHS single-season record 23 touchdowns, including 10 to Dax Snooks. He has 1,498 passing yards and has thrown nine interceptions.
The rushing attack isn't as one-sided for Bayfield as it is for Elizabeth. The Wolverines don't have a 1,000-yard rusher, as Carl Heide leads the team with 749 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Killough has another 515 yards and eight rushing scores, and Dylan Hilliker has five rushing touchdowns to go with 344 yards on only 29 carries. Four other Wolverines have rushing scores this year, and key weapons David Hawkins and Keyon Prior, who were projected as the team's top two runners going into the season, are returning to form after injuries.
Coach Heide said all of his weapons are expected to be ready to play Saturday. The seniors are eager to start the playoffs after a 13-12 loss in the semifinals to eventual state champion La Junta last year. The Wolverines won the state title in 2015, the team's second in program history.
"We want it really bad," Killough said. "We all have one more opportunity for it. We're all looking at that and see it. It's all or nothing now. We want it bad."