Fruita Monument is ready to to show that an undefeated football season was no fluke. The Wildcats are for real.
It doesn’t matter if anyone else believes it as long as they do.
“We think we have as good a shot as anybody,” Wildcats coach Todd Casebier said this week. “We got a top-three seed for a reason and we’re undefeated for a reason.”
At 10-0 on the year, the Wildcats earned the No. 3 seed in the Class 4A football tournament. They earned it the old fashioned way. They had a dominant rushing attack and a physical defense that didn’t like surrendering points.
Braeden Graham and Treyton Queen accounted 2,644 of the team’s 3,323 rushing yards. They combined for 35 touchdowns. By themselves, they scored more points than the Fruita defense allowed all season.
But all that is out the window now that the playoffs are underway.
“We’re kind of starting over again at 0-0,” quarterback Zach Rush said. “That’s our mindset going into this game and we just need to play as hard as we can.”
Listed at 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Graham is regarded as the speedy one in the backfield. But the rushing attack itself isn’t built on speed as much as it is on power.
“We’ve been called the Dynamic Duo, or the Dynamic Trio with us and Zach,” Queen said.
Queen is a monster of a fullback (5-foot-9, 235 pounds) and provides just the right counter to what Graham is able to do. In the first two games of the season (against two playoff bound 3A teams), the duo nearly matched each other in carries.
Graham picked up 37 more total rushing yards in the two games and just one more touchdown. The similar numbers against two tough opponents set the tone for what would ultimately become a successful season.
“(Our running game is) going to be important, just like it always is,” Queen said. “Other teams know that it’s super-important in our offense.”
Fruita’s solid play only snowballed in wins over Grand Junction, Grand Junction Central and Palisade.
By the time the Wildcats were getting into their league schedule, they had been regarded as a top-10 team in the state.
And they kept winning. In the final poll of the season, the Wildcats were locked in to the No. 4 spot, sitting right behind three dominant teams in Ponderosa, Pine Creek and Chatfield. And there was no doubt in their mind that they belonged there.
“We’re 10-0 and we’re running what works for us,” Queen said. “We’re doing it well. It’s run-first and we can do that with what we have up front.”
But now the real test begins.
The Wildcats host Vista Ridge on Saturday. The Wolves aren’t without their own playmakers on offense, specifically quarterback Jaylen Thomas.
Casebier is going to have to rely on his defensive front to cause the same kind of havoc it has caused all year.
When going up against a player as talented as Thomas, it helps to have a counter attack in Kaden Jolley.
If there is anyone on the line that can put some pressure on Thomas, it would be Jolley. He only registered three sacks on the year, but he led the team in hurries with seven and caused two fumbles on the season. He also recovered four fumbles, somehow finding a way to be in the right place at the right time.
“We’re going to have to continue to create turnovers on defense,” Casebier said. “Over the last several weeks, our defense (the starters) have allowed six points a game. We need to do that. We need to play great defense.”
The combination of a dominating ground attack and an opportunistic defense can be a successful formula in playoff football.
There is no doubt on the Western Slope that the Wildcats have all the tools to claim championship gold. Those tools have kept them undefeated so far. There’s no reason why anything has to change now.