The Platte Canyon High School Huskies’ football season has thus far resembled a Rocky movie. At first, of course, poor Rocky gets beaten to within an inch of his life. Just when it looks like all hope is lost, and that Rocky is going down for good, he miraculously staggers to his feet, survives the experience with raw grit and determination and eventually emerges as the undisputed champion.
Admittedly, that analogy might be a bit on the dramatic side.
But after being badly staggered by four consecutive losses against top-tier opponents prior to the start of conference play, it was somewhat difficult to imagine the Huskies getting off the canvas with three straight league wins, as they have done.
It was even more difficult to imagine that three weeks into conference play, the Huskies would stand as the odds-on favorite to earn a second consecutive Class 1A Foothills League championship.
But, as Hollywood would have it, that is the situation following the Huskies’ 38-8 blowout over the Sheridan Rams Saturday in Bailey.
Had this game been a boxing match, it would have mercifully been declared a technical knockout midway through the second quarter. The victory moved the Huskies to 3-4 overall, and 3-0 in conference play. The Rams fell to 3-4, 2-1 with the loss.
The Huskies provided a foreshadowing of things to come on their first possession of the game by promptly driving 80 yards on nine plays. The drive was quickly capped when senior running back Brandon Patterson broke free for a 41-yard romp to pay dirt. The two-point conversion was successful thanks to a determined run by Darius Boyer, giving the Huskies an 8-0 advantage.
Patterson leads the conference in rushing with 731 yards on 99 carries and seven touchdowns. Patterson rushed 16 times for 189 yards and three touchdowns against the Rams.
Patterson missed one game due to injury. In the six games for which he has been active, he has averaged 121 yards per contest. The conference’s second most productive ball carrier has rushed for more than 100 yards less than Patterson.
The second Huskies’ score came on a 65-yard run by Patterson early in the second quarter. Patterson turned up the field and hit a huge hole off tackle and outran a Sheridan defensive back en route to the end zone.
The Huskies’ offensive line, anchored by Jacob Ebbs, Josh Ebbs, Ben Hatz, Mike Dean, Keith Giles and tight end Johnathan Hannigan, provided enormous running lanes for the third consecutive week. The Huskies averaged seven yards per carry and totaled 348 yards in the contest.
PCHS exploded for 24 points in the second quarter. Matthew Bracknell scored on a seven-yard run, Patterson added his third touchdown of the game, also from seven yards out, and quarterback Allen Hardey hit Evan Grafner on a 44-yard pass to round out the first half scoring with the Huskies leading 38-8.
The Huskies’ offense had its way with the Rams, but the defensive effort was no less impressive. Jacob Ebbs, Grafner, Eli Giles, Patterson, Hardey and Hannigan were all in on nine or more tackles. The Ram’s offense was consistently thwarted throughout the contest, as the Huskies’ defensive front completely dominated the line of scrimmage.
Hatz, a sophomore who has 4.5 sacks on the season, spent much of the game in the Rams’ offensive backfield.
“We were getting around their blockers on the line of scrimmage defensively, and we were moving their defensive line off the ball when we were on offense,” Hatz said. “So controlling the line of scrimmage like that was great.”
Teammate Mike Dean, a junior, pitched in with six tackles and agreed that winning the line of scrimmage was critical.
“I was getting to the edge and getting around the outside of blocks when we were on defense, and then it was a matter of finding the ball carrier or the quarterback,” Dean said.
Both Dean and Hatz admitted that they were concerned about how the team would perform after suffering four losses to start the season, but both players said momentum began to build quickly after their first conference victory over Clear Creek.
In the last three games, the Huskies’ punishing ground game has accounted for an astonishing 932 yards.
Now the Huskies head down the home stretch with a very favorable schedule. Just for the sake of good theatre, high drama and additional story line, the Huskies have a shot at going undefeated in conference play for the second consecutive season.
Those chances got better with the news that next week’s scheduled contest has been forfeited by Lake County, and that the team has canceled the remainder of its season.
That will leave the Huskies at 4-0 in conference headed into a potential Nov. 1 showdown on the road against Manual. If Manual manages a win against Clear Creek this weekend, then the Nov. 1 contest will decide the conference championship.
If Clear Creak wins, the Huskies will clinch the conference title while inactive over the weekend.
With all that good news, and with the 38-8 score still serving as a nice backdrop behind him on the hometown scoreboard, one might guess Huskies head coach Lance Gunkel would be walking on air. Typical of an experienced head coach, however, Gunkel was in the moment and focused on how his team could improve.
“That was a nice win, and I was glad we could get some kids who have not played much into the game in the fourth quarter,” Gunkel said. “I was a little disappointed, though, that we didn’t continue to move the ball and put up more points in the second half.”
Gunkel added that the unexpected week off would be useful to iron out minor kinks and to let some of his banged-up players heal a little prior to a potential showdown with Manual.