All of the Wolverines have been here before. None of the Panthers have.
No. 1 Bayfield High School will host No. 16 Montezuma-Cortez in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A State Football Playoffs at 6 p.m. Friday at Wolverine Country Stadium. It is the first trip to the state playoffs for Montezuma-Cortez since 2014, while Bayfield is the defending state champion that has won two of the last three state titles. Bayfield hasn't lost a first-round playoff game since a 2014 defeat at Faith Christian.
"We certainly value and appreciate our experience," BHS head coach Gary Heide said. "I think it helped us the last two games and will help us out in this game. But it's still a whole new year for this team to play in the playoffs."
BHS (7-1) won the Class 2A Intermountain League championship with a 22-14 win last week at No. 5 Salida (8-1). The Wolverines erased a 14-point halftime deficit to earn the win.
A week earlier, Bayfield won 14-13 in overtime at Pagosa Springs, and that win helped eliminate the Pirates from the playoffs and make room for Montezuma-Cortez (4-5).
"It was sheer joy," Montezuma-Cortez senior lineman Kale Hall told The Journal after he found out that the Panthers were playoff-bound. "We've been through everything, all the losses and heartache over the last three years, so to have this group still together making the playoffs is amazing."
Through an up-and-down season, the Wolverines have come together as a team with the two big wins in the previous two weeks to secure a fourth consecutive league title.
Now, the team is eager to return to Wolverine Country Stadium where it has won 23 consecutive games, a program record.
"The two games we had, they were very emotional games," Heide said. "Eventually, road trips do take a toll on you. It's good to be back home. Obviously, playing in front of the Bayfield crowd and fans is always special for us."
Bayfield hasn't lost a game to a league opponent since Oct. 10, 2014, and that was a 47-13 loss to the Panthers. The two teams met this year on Oct. 12, and the Wolverines rolled to a 39-3 victory even with quarterback Hayden Farmer out the second half with a shoulder injury.
The Wolverines ran power football, and senior running back David Hawkins finished with 150 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries along with a defensive touchdown on a first-quarter fumble recovery.
Bayfield's defense limited Cortez quarterback Ike Dennison to 54 yards passing and 11 completions on 28 attempts, while the team finished with only 53 yards of total offense.
Dennison has thrown for more than 1,200 yards this season. In a 54-0 win last week at Albuquerque Academy, Dennison was 23-of-32 passing for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
"Their quarterback is a great thrower and can make plays," Heide said. "If we give him opportunities, he'll make more plays than he should. They've got some great athletes around him, and we have to be ready."
Heide said the Wolverines' key to success will be limiting turnovers. With a great defense, BHS doesn't want to give the Panthers a short field.
Offensively, BHS has a few reachable milestones this week. Hawkins has 969 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground this year and will look to crack the 1,000-yard barrier. Farmer can surpass 1,000 passing yards, as he has 861 already this season to go with eight touchdowns but 10 interceptions.
Senior Keyon Prior also has a chance to get more than 500 rushing yards, as he will enter with 452 and three touchdowns. Junior Dylan Hilliker is in the same position with 417 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Prior is also 141 receiving yards away from 500 yards this season.
Bayfield will be without senior kicker and safety Max McGhehey, who is out two months with a spleen injury suffered last week at Salida.
Heide said junior Trenton Harrison will assume kicking duties on extra points, and he hopes to give him multiple opportunities Friday to get used to place kicking on the varsity level.
"It's all one game at a time for everyone now," Heide said. "After Friday, one team is going to be done, and one team will keep playing. Cortez has a lot on the line and a lot of pride. We expect a high-quality playoff team, and we have to play really well."