Helpless as he and his staff were about a player-eligibility problem which cost the team last Saturday’s season-opening home game versus Class 1A third-ranked Meeker, all Alfonso “Ponch” Garcia could do was remind the Ignacio Bobcats that, now, there are no off days.
Because with a conference-only schedule now remaining, the state playoffs are practically underway.
“The kids are very, very excited to be back on the football field now instead of in the spring,” said Ignacio High School’s sixth-year head football coach, recalling CHSAA’s offer to permit coronavirus-concerned schools to decide whether to play a six-game schedule in the fall or spring. “We got caught that first game with eligibility, but we’ll have a chance to make it right.”
The shortened-season’s stakes couldn’t be higher right off the bat for the Bobcats.
Graduation claimed starting quarterback Ian Weinreich, deep-threat receiver Colten Jackson, a vital lineman/linebacker Clay Campbell and an unsung defense/special teams contributor Stephan Gomez from the ’19 squad. But with a roster still listing most of last season’s talent, expect Ignacio’s energy to be elevated entering Thursday’s must-win unveiling at Southern Peaks League rival Center.
Kickoff time on Viking Field at Center Community Park is set for 6 p.m.
Of course, all times and dates this season are subject to change given circumstances associated with the ongoing global pandemic.
“They played a pretty tough opponent this last week,” Garcia said, alluding to Center’s 26-0 road loss last Friday at non-conference Peyton. “And actually, we were supposed to play Peyton in preseason. So, it’s going to be a challenge; being a first game, they’ll have jitters.
“For (Center) it’s like, ‘We’ve got beat once, can’t get beat twice.’ For us, we’re going to say, ‘Not going to happen.’ We’re going to go in with that attitude. Hopefully the kids can bring it.”
And should they do so, a la last season’s solid 38-21 victory at the same site, Ignacio could again be positioned as a dark-horse hopeful to shock Southern Peaks superpower Centauri and perhaps see the postseason for the first time since 2009, when the Bobcats lost to, yep, Meeker (they’d get a measure of revenge in ’11, defeating the Cowboys at neutral Olathe).
The talent to get IHS even positioned to challenge – or at least log the program’s first winning season since 2013 – is certainly there and, with most players ready to rumble from start to finish on both sides of the ball.
Fresh off gaining extra conditioning as a member of IHS’ first boys cross-country team in decades, left-handed junior Gabe Tucson returns as the skipper’s selection at quarterback. And despite not having Jackson available to stretch the field, Tucson will have plenty of veteran options in seniors Lawrence Toledo and Dylan Labarthe plus junior Shawn Campbell, who at times showed Jackson-like home-run promise.
“We’ve obviously got speed on the outside,” stated Garcia. “We’re going to have an exciting offense this year; I tell you what, you’re going to be pretty surprised.”
IHS’ bread-and-butter ground game will begin with senior Joe Garcia, named First Team All-League last fall and a co-recipient (with Jackson) as Ignacio’s MVP. Labarthe, another cross-country convert, and Toledo will also undoubtedly get some touches out of the backfield, having often done so in 2019 as the Bobcats finished a third-place 2-2 in league and 3-6 overall.
Center, meanwhile, finished fourth in the league at 1-3 but posted a 4-5 overall mark.
In the trenches, Ignacio would appear to be well-stocked in terms of experience, if not overwhelming stature. Having gutted out as much of the cross-country season as possible prior to football practices commencing, IHS junior Jeremy Roderick could be used wherever needed; on offense last fall he saw time at center and guard. Classmates Tyler Barnes, who also found some cross-country legs, and Mekhi Miranda will provide extra toughness.
Junior Alric Hudson assumed some snapping duties in 2019 and should return on the interior along with senior Donovan Snow and sophomore Jace Carmenoros. Senior Curtis White showed moments of outstanding play, particularly on defense, and should senior Peyton Baker, limited last year by injury, also return to the fold his size would prove an asset – as was graduated Randy Herrera’s.
As with any number of small-school programs, special teams could be a concern with both Clay Campbell (punts, kickoffs) and foreign-exchange student Alvaro Ros Ortiz (placekicks, punts) no longer in uniform, but Garcia expressed confidence in Shawn Campbell to handle such tasks, as he sometimes did last year with would-be alternate Cesar Pedregon having moved out of state.
“I’m pretty happy so far with how he’s doing; so long as he doesn’t hurt a leg I think he’s going to be OK,” Garcia said. “He’s going to be a fun kid to watch all over the place.”
“We’ve got a good core, but I’d just like to have a little more athletes come play,” Garcia said. “It’s been so much fun doing it right now, and I like what I see.”
Following the trip to Center, the Bobcats will return to host arch-nemesis Dolores at IHS Field at 7 p.m. Oct. 23. The Bears were last year’s SPC cellar-dweller with an 0-4 record, part of an 0-9 overall mark, and 2020 already hasn’t treated them any better. Last Thursday, Dolores fell 52-0 at home to non-conference Hotchkiss.
Halloween weekend will see Ignacio travel out to La Jara for a 1 p.m. afternoon start Friday, Oct. 30 at Centauri, and IHS will again head east into the San Luis Valley to visit Monte Vista (3-6, 3-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.
Regular-season action then concludes Friday the 13th with a 7 p.m. home test versus Del Norte. Back in the 11-man Southern Peaks loop after a long stretch in the 8-man Mountain League, the Tigers went 3-6 overall last year but a sixth-place 1-5 in a 7-team conference – avoiding the basement only by claiming a season-ending 2-0 forfeit over Mosca Sangre de Cristo.
IHS last faced Del Norte in 2013, both hosting and destroying the guests 55-0.
Getting 2020 underway last weekend against non-conference opposition, fourth-ranked Centauri ripped Rocky Ford 54-7 on the road, but Del Norte lost 33-0 at Cedaredge and Monte Vista (an ‘Others Receiving Votes’ pick in the aforementioned poll) fell 40-8 at home to No. 8 Colorado Springs Christian.