Whoever controls the line of scrimmage might just control the the Class 3A football championship trophy come Saturday.
The matchup between No. 1 Roosevelt and No. 3 Durango is intriguing on so many levels. At first glance it could be that the skill position players that are likely to shine for each team. After a narrow win over Fort Morgan in the quarterfinals, Brig Hartson led a Rough Riders (7-0) offense as it scored seven rushing touchdowns to beat Pueblo South in the semifinals.
Hartson scored one while Keegan Sterkel and Cooper Walton each scored three. But make no mistake, it was all powered by the big fellas on the offensive line. It felt like the Rough Riders were getting two more yards than they needed on a given play while defensively they allowed South one fewer yard than was needed to convert on third down.
It all played into Roosevelt's style which has the the team feeling like it's ready to battle for a state title.
"We feel like we've been battle-tested a little bit this year," coach Lane Wasinger said during the state championship press conference. "We play in a league that is highly competitive with good football and tough, talented kids."
Roosevelt has played for a state title twice. The Rough Riders lost to Eaton in 2000 and Pueblo East in 2015.
For the Demons (7-0) the senior tandem of Jordan Woolverton and Ben Finneseth has made them a tough team to beat as evidenced the results of their seven games. Like Roosevelt, it's easy to point to the guys who get the stats, but a quick glance at Durango's offensive line reveals a sizeable group that carries the right level of football nasty.
The linemen have opened enough lanes to allow Finneseth to run for 478 yards, Woolverton to run for 409 yards and junior Nate Messier to run for a team-high 517 yards.
The three combined to score 22 rushing touchdowns and Woolverton 10 passing touchdowns even when missing the entire second half of the Demons' win over Pueblo County on Oct. 24.
"It's been a pleasure to get these kids out there and let them show their skills," Durango coach David Vogt said. "We've been super fortunate."
And the results have been fortunate for the Demons as well. After No. 2 Holy Family cruised through the regular season, they appeared to be a big favorite to advance to the state championship game.
Durango worked effectively in the first half, building a 14-0 lead and hanging on to win the game 34-14. Until the semifinals, the Tigers had not surrendered more than 15 points to an opponent all year.
But the Demons are hungry for a title. Woolverton hasn't been shy about his goal of leaving a legacy at Durango and he knows a state championship will be a big piece of that.
"We don't want Durango to fall off the map anytime soon," Woolverton said in November. "We're really trying to lead the way for these younger guys and showing them, this is what a brotherhood looks like, this is what everything like in this program looks like. We need to focus on being able to compete with these guys up in the Front Range."
Durango is in the state championship game for the first time since 1988 when it lost to Grand Junction. The Demons' lone state football title came in 1954.