After ending last season with a 66-30 loss to Vail Christian in the opening round of the state playoffs, the Dove Creek Bulldogs found themselves chomping at the bit to return to the field this fall.
Plans for the season were temporarily put on hold, however, when the COVID-19 pandemic led the Colorado High School Activities Association to delay the season until spring.
Then, after a stunning change of plans in mid-September, CHSAA officials declared that the fall season would be available for teams that chose to play, and just like that, the Bulldogs dreams of glory on the gridiron were restored.
“I don’t know how it is in other small towns, but in small-town Dove Creek, football is everything,” Dove Creek head coach Shane Baughman said. “It was so up and down for (our players), they had almost given up. For kids to go through all that is kind of a pain, but we’re here, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to play.”
Cressler to lead talented offenseAmong the reasons for Dove Creek fans to be excited is the coming-of-age of junior quarterback Chorbin Cressler, who took over as the Bulldogs starting quarterback two years ago and has since established himself as one of the state’s most electrifying players.
More muscular now than he was last season, when he rushed for 1,157 yards and 18 touchdowns and threw for 678 yards and nine touchdowns, the Dove Creek signal caller appears to be poised for a monster year.
“(Cressler) is a junior now, and he knows the position well,” Baughman said. “He has great natural athletic ability, and as long as his head comes along, which should with maturity, he will help us tremendously on the offensive side of the ball.”
Joining Cressler in the backfield and figuring to provide scoring threats for Dove Creek will be senior running backs Gage Bailey and Gauge Thompson, who, like Cressler, have vast experience playing their positions.
Known for his speed and shiftiness, Bailey rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns last season, while the versatile Thompson rushed for 679 yards and six touchdowns and had 327 yards receiving and five receiving touchdowns.
“We hang out a lot, and we all work naturally together,” said Cressler of the Bulldogs backfield. “Us in the backfield together, we have as much speed as anyone in the league.”
Opening holes for Dove Creek’s running game will be a talented line led by seniors Austin Beanland and Hayden Gray, and junior Blain Johnson. Sophomore Cade Hankins will start at receiver for Dove Creek, and a strong group of underclassmen will get some snaps.
Gray anchors powerful defenseWhile the Bulldogs figure to produce plenty of fireworks on offense, their ability to make a deep run in the playoffs could depend on the team’s defense, which features a well-balanced combination of speed and power.
Chief among Dove Creek’s stalwart defenders is senior Hayden Gray, who racked up 104 tackles from his linebacker position last season while instilling fear in opponents, thanks to his hard-hitting style.
Also figuring to contribute in a big way is former quarterback Austin Beanland, who, after moving to the defensive line as a sophomore, had a team-best eight sacks last season.
“This season is what we’ve been waiting for; we are bigger and older,” Gray said. “We are looking the best we ever have this early (in the year). We want to make sure that people remember this team from this year, and hopefully, we can go deep in the playoffs and even win a state championship.”
Schedule will provide challengeWhile in a normal season, Dove Creek would seemingly be a lock for the 16-team playoffs in Colorado’s 8-man division, this year’s bracket will include only eight teams selected based on RPI ranking, the MaxPreps an coach polls, and Packard rankings.
Since no automatic playoff berths will be given to league champions, teams likely will need to win at least five of their six regular season games to have a shot at the postseason.
Dove Creek will open at home on Oct. 9 against Vail Christian before traveling to face Sargent on Oct. 16. The Bulldogs also will play Sangre de Cristo, Sanford, Mancos and Norwood.
“Initially, we’ve got the mentality that we need to go undefeated in the regular season to have a chance (at the playoffs),” Baughman said. “A team could go undefeated and not make the playoffs.”