Shoot first, ask questions later.
That was more or less Montezuma-Cortez head coach Dawson Emrich's simplified strategy Tuesday night, knowing his visiting Panthers would likely face a re-motivated Bayfield bunch bent on not giving up their Homecoming Week match without a fight.
"That's something I was telling the boys at half: We've got to keep shooting, keep shooting, keep following," Emrich said. "Even if it's from far out, just keep shooting and something will come of it."
Nobody expected a goal-the clinching goal, as it turned out-to come from roughly 25 yards out, and particularly not on a 2-v-5 rush. But that's exactly what happened, and not even three full minutes after beautiful close-range passing from BHS freshman Jareth Vega to senior Mattia DiBello yielded a goal, cutting M-CHS' lead back down to 4-3 in the 69th minute.
Hustling the ball forward on a counter-attack and thinking he had more help to his left than just one teammate, Panther junior Alden Adams clamped on his brakes, thought quickly before any Wolverine could step closer and defend, and booted a high-arcing shot over and behind goalie Bailee Blakeslee in about the 72nd.
Which wasn't a small accomplishment either; the Bayfield senior had re-settled himself to make numerous saves-including a highlight-reel, one-handed diving robbery to prevent a sure score. That was after Adams netted a perfect half-volley just after intermission in the 42nd, putting the guests up by an imposing 4-1 margin.
"I think he's grown so much," BHS boss Chris Zoltowski said of Blakeslee's maturation between the pipes. "He's one of those kids that works so hard, his work ethic is so strong, and proves it on the field. When he's on the field, every single game he gets better, and just continues to impress."
The Wolverines (1-8 overall, 1-2 3A Southwestern, 1-6 3A/2A SWL) struck first, with DiBello breaking through the Panthers near midfield and beating Montezuma-Cortez senior Stevie Fuentes in only the fifth minute.
But when senior Dylan Doskocil appeared to injure his left ankle (joining his still-healing right) and left the match not to return, BHS had lost a crucial piece of their puzzle and both teams knew it.
"Everything changed, and we kind of weren't prepared for that transition," Zoltowski said. "Part of our game plan was to keep Number Ten (Adams) contained; we've seen he's their top goal-scorer. And having him contained by playing Dylan at center-back - it fell right into our plan, and we had control easily up until that injury."
Capitalizing on an altered Wolverine alignment, Adams intercepted a failed clearing pass deep within Bayfield's 18 and equalized in the 34th when Blakeslee had to gamble on leaving his line to smother the ball.
A similar situation occurred in the 35th, and M-CHS sophomore Rodrigo Marquez was the beneficiary.
"Alden's been playing great for us; it's his second hat trick in the last two games," Emrich noted. "Him and Rodrigo are getting some good chemistry and playing well together."
DiBello nearly evened the score at 2-2, but his 37th-minute shot smashed off the crossbar. Not long after, the Panthers (4-7, 2-1, 4-5) raised the stakes even higher when senior Michael Diaz somehow scored from a tight angle, putting Montezuma-Cortez up 3-1 at intermission.
"The first half we came out a little flat, let them go up 1-0," Emrich admitted. "So I thought it was important to emphasize going strong the first part of the second, and that's exactly what we did. Carried some of that momentum through, and got the victory."
Displaying a non-stop motor from start to finish, BHS junior Jason Schneider sprinted onto a long DiBello pass in the 53rd and converted the breakaway for the Wolverines' first second-half goal.
"We have a lot of fine-tuning to do," Zoltowksi said. "And I think one of the things is to find positions for some of these guys to where we can actually have some depth where we have changes and things like that. A lot of times there's certain guys that only know certain positions, so I think one of the big things we need to work on is just to get the whole team more versatile."
Having entered the match three days removed from a 6-0 loss at 4A Kirtland Central, the Wolverines will next see action Oct. 2 when they travel to Pagosa Springs. Having won a fourth straight contest, M-CHS will visit KCHS on Sept. 29, then host Bayfield on Oct. 9.