State champions separated by 66 years. They have never met each other or seen each other play, but they now share a common bond.
The Durango High School football team won the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A state championship Dec. 5 in Pueblo with a 21-14 victory against Roosevelt. It was the first time the Demons had won a football state title since their first on Dec. 4, 1954, which came in a 7-7 tie against Lamar.
And as the clock ticked down to zeros for Durango’s first outright state championship in school history, some from the 1954 team felt a sense of pride return while once distant memories emerged from the fogs of their minds.
“I was glad the team got to experience a championship game, and even better they won,” said Art Adcock, a senior on the 1954 team who played guard and linebacker. “I remember the excitement in the town when we were headed to state. You never forget that feeling of belonging to something big.
“I thought (Durango) would eventually win a championship. I never dreamed it would take 66 years.”
Matt Martinez, who was a junior on Durango’s 1954 team, followed the 2020 championship game via The Durango Herald on Twitter. His grandson, Bill Rasure, read him the updates.
“Matt has spoken of the ’54 team numerous times in the 17-plus years I have known him,” Rasure said. “I could see him reminiscing as I gave him constant updates. The moment the game ended, he proceeded to his closet and returned donning his ’54 letterman’s jacket.”
Rasure posted a photo of Martinez wearing his jacket. Durango senior quarterback Jordan Woolverton saw the post and expressed his pride in representing Durango and all of the football alumni.
“It means a lot, and I hope it was something special for them,” Woolverton said. “To have guys who played in 1954 for Durango still rooting for us and supporting us from afar, I personally thought it was one of the coolest things I saw last weekend.”
The senior class of the 2020 team had mostly played together since the third grade. It was the tight bond and sense of family they had developed for a decade that they credited for their championship run.
The chemistry was never more evident than when Woolverton hit wide receiver Gage Mestas on the game-winning 67-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. The two have been lifelong friends and won three youth and two middle school championships together. The winning touchdown came on an audible out of what was originally a running play. With a decade of experience together, each player knew exactly what to expect from the other to deliver a championship play.
“Our team this year was super tight. We all loved one another,” Woolverton said. “We all would have done anything for one another. I am going to remember how tight we were and everything we did together for years to come. Like those guys in 1954, none of us will ever forget that feeling of brotherhood.”
For the 1954 team, details of their championship game have long since vanished from their memories, but they have never forgotten the camaraderie they also shared that season. While the game of football and the athletes have changed drastically in the 66 years between them, it is that similarity between the teams that they know made them both champions.
“I am incredibly proud to have been on a team with so many good men,” said Adcock, who now lives in Dolores. “Most of us had played all four years together. We were like brothers. Some of us went to play at the college level at Fort Lewis. Many of them have been my lifelong friends, including the coaches. Two of those guys were groomsmen in my wedding in 1961. That championship game will always be special.”
Durango has now played in five state championship football games with a 1-3-1 record. Before Dec. 5’s triumph, the most recent had been a 23-13 loss to Grand Junction in 1988.
The first championship appearance came in 1934 behind quarterback Leon Burrows, who would return as the head coach of the 1954 team. In 1934, DHS lost 13-0 on the road at Brighton.
The 1946 Demons would return to state but fell 12-6 to Lakewood in a home game played inside the old La Plata County Fairgrounds, which had a football field built inside the horse racing track.
In 1954, the Demons had beat Glenwood Springs 33-6 in the semifinals behind 194 yards and four rushing touchdowns from star running back Jerry Timm. The championship game also would be played at the fairgrounds on a bitter cold day after the field had been bulldozed of snow.
Whether it was the cold from that day or the years passed since it was played, nobody from the 1954 team can remember if it was Timm who scored the championship game touchdown or if it was one of the other halfbacks such as Norm Putnam or Paul Chamberlain.
“Momentum was on our side from the end of the third quarter to the end of the game,” said Don “Butch” Seale, a senior from the 1954 team who still lives in Durango. “Jerry Timm, Lamar was keying on him, but our other two backs were real good at getting the needed three or four yards when you had to. We had struggled for everything but gave everything we had.
“It seemed like they scored in the second quarter before halftime and we scored in the third quarter. But we were driving at the very last bit of the game. The clock ran out, and we were tied. It was the way it was. They were pretty elated the game had ended. We were kind of downhearted, but we got over it.”
It wasn’t Durango’s first tie of the 1954 season. Earlier that year, DHS had played Grand Junction to a 7-7 road draw. But being in the championship game, the Demons expected some kind of tiebreaker. It wasn’t to be, and the team finished the year with a 7-2-2 record.
“There wasn’t any major disappointment, but we weren’t real happy about it,” said Frank Anesi, a junior tackle from the 1954 team who still lives in Durango. “In the end, at least we didn’t get beat.”
Though the Demons had hoped to win the game, the team could move forward knowing it had done all it could and would finally celebrate being the first Demons team to ever claim the moniker of state football champion.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said Alex Geisler, a 1954 senior who split quarterback duties with Tom Marquez and was a defensive halfback who had a championship game interception. “When it ended in a tie, we were all standing around and figured they would do some kind of playoff. But there wasn’t any overtime in those days for high school games. We saw the Lamar team get real excited, and then we found out there wouldn’t be any playoff and that we would be co-champs. It was a great feeling, a good team feeling.”
The 1954 players don’t have a conviction about who would have won if Durango and Lamar were allowed to keep playing that game into an overtime. Both teams walked away feeling as though they had done all they could.
“It’s a 50-50 tossup,” Adcock said. “One break one way or the other. I would like to think Durango would have won, but I’m biased.”
Adcock said each player received a certificate and a small gold football to wear on a chain after the championship victory. All that sits in the Durango High School trophy case from that year is a football with signatures from all of the players.
The 2020 team was handed a large trophy, Mestas received an encapsulated game ball as the game’s most valuable player, and each boy and coach will receive a state championship ring.
While there were plenty of differences between the two championships, the two teams also felt a similar love from the Durango community for their accomplishment. As the Durango Demons rolled back into town from Pueblo, they received a police escort from the La Plata County line to the high school where hundreds of waiting fans cheered their arrival.
Only 75 parents had been permitted to attend the game because of public health guidelines put in place by the state because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don Brown, a junior on the 1954 team, said Durangoans had showed up in force to cheer on the Demons on their big day. He has no doubt Durango would have again this year if permitted.
“We were very proud, and the entire community was there at the fairgrounds stadium,” said Brown, a longtime Durango School District 9-R employee who retired in 1992 and moved to Cortez, where he lives today on his ranch. “We had such excellent coaches, a lot of kids out on the team and a lot of pride in what we had done together.”
Martinez, who would go on to serve in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, credited coach Leon Burrows and assistant coach Cal Putnam for instilling discipline in the team he would carry with him the rest of his life. He returned to Durango in 1975 and was a longtime football game worker moving the first down chains. He called this season a return to Durango’s glory days and hopes the Demons have many more to come.
Brown, who has a deep love for Durango and the school district, said he wasn’t able to follow the 2020 team much but remembers some of their fathers and grandfathers who came up through DHS, including those on the 1988 team that made state. And when he read news of the Demons’ championship, he felt that love for the Demons swell inside him once more.
“When you’re at Durango, you have those teammates for life,” Brown said. “There are going to be some good years and some bad years, but you’ve gotta have that pride and the enthusiasm to go out there and accept a challenge. There will be times where you don’t perform to your ability, and that hurts. But keep your head up and keep moving and believing.
“Durango High School has always been a place with good competitors. It’s a great school with great people. To see Durango win again, it’s beautiful. I hope they can do it again, and I hope it doesn’t take another 66 years.”