MANITOU SPRINGS – It was so close to being a rematch of the Class 2A state championship game.
As the 2014 high school football season got underway this week, it was seen as one of the marquee games on the schedule. And after fighting through a sloppy first half, it was clear why as the No. 2 Faith Christian Eagles (1-0) topped the No. 4 Manitou Springs Mustangs (0-1) 18-15 Friday night.
It was an encouraging win for Faith Christian and coach Ralph Nance and tough loss for new Manitou Springs coach Monte Gutowski. What started as a sloppy contest rife with turnovers turned into an intense battle that could’ve seen either side emerge with the win.
“Turnovers always make a difference in a game. Every time,” Gutowski said. “You commit turnovers and it’s going to cost you. Shoot, everyone knows that.”
The Mustangs’ defense started strong, forcing and recovering a fumble on the first Eagles drive of the game. A solid running attack by senior Malachi Peterson put the ball inside the Eagles 15-yard line. Facing a 4th and goal, Gutowski elected to go for the touchdown, but to no avail.
With the ball back in the Eagles’ hands they began their slow march down the field, only to have Hunter Warren pick-off an Adam Buchmann pass for the Mustangs’ second forced turnover in as many drives to start their season. Their second opportunity, however, would not get them close to the endzone as quarterback Ryan Adamscheck threw the first of his three interceptions on the first play of the drive.
Unlike the Mustangs, the Eagles would capitalize on the turnover as running back Zach Schultz broke free for 60 yards to put Faith Christian up 6-0. Adamscheck would get the feeling of déjà vu as he threw another interception shortly after, leading to a 20-yard touchdown run by Elijah Durrett.
With a 12-0 lead, the pressure shifted to Manitou’s defense, who had played well with the exception of allowing two long touchdown runs. They were able to limit the Eagles to no further damage in the first half, going into the break still down by 12.
“If either team had been sharper with what they were trying to do, it probably would’ve been a different ball game at that point,” Nance said. “It was a totally new offense for us, a new defense, there were a lot of new guys on the (offensive) line so all of that stuff plays in to where everyone’s just trying to gel together.
Halftime adjustments didn’t show immediate dividends for Manitou as they turned the ball over for the fourth time of the game on their first drive of the half. The defense once again came big, forcing the Eagles to punt after the offense stalled at mid-field.
That’s when the Mustangs found their run game. Paced by Peterson, the Mustangs powered their way down field. They got on the scoreboard with a five-yard touchdown run by Peterson, cutting the deficit to 12-7.
The Eagles answered quickly with a touchdown run by Buchmann, building the Eagles lead back to scores at 18-7. But that would be far from the end for Manitou. The Mustangs continued to focus on the ground game and it paid off as Peterson broke free for a 40-yard touchdown run with six minutes still remaining on the clock.
The Mustangs would add on the two-point, making the score 18-15 and pulling Manitou to within a field goal. But in order to have that opportunity, Manitou had to come up big on the defensive side of the ball.
The Eagles continued to use their ground game to try and advance the ball while running time off the clock. Buchmann had his team at mid-field, facing 4th and 4. Rather than hand the ball over to Manitou, the Eagle went for it with Buchmann throwing the ball down the field where it was caught, but out of bounds.
“It was (a collective) call to go for it,” Buchmann said. “We felt confident in what we had called it just kind of broke down.”
The Mustangs now had possession of the ball with a chance to drive down and tie or win the game. They crossed into Faith Christian territory and found themselves with a 1st and 10 situation at the Eagles’ 45. The running attack is what got Manitou back into the game, but with no timeouts, Gutowski was forced into a passing situation. Four straight incompletions gave the Eagles the ball and their first win of 2014.
“It was execution. We had that many mistakes and we couldn’t execute,” Gutowski said. “I didn’t have our ball club ready to go. Bottom line. We didn’t have a timeout and they were playing outside. That’s my call and no one else’s.”
The Mustangs will hit the road for the first time next Friday as they travel to Woodland Park. The Eagles will play host for the first time Friday when they welcome Florence into town.