West Grand packs success, both this season and historically
There are signs that even those close to the program are a bit surprised the Soroco High School football team is still playing, next at 1 p.m. Saturday in the 8-man football state semifinals in Oak Creek against West Grand.
The school, for instance, had to postpone its end-of-season fall sports banquet because, thanks to back-to-back upsets by the football team in the playoffs, it’s not “end-of-season” yet.
It’d be hard to blame anyone from Soroco, either. The Rams Round 1 win in the 16-team tournament was the program’s first postseason win since the Lyndon Johnson administration.
Saturday’s opponent, however, came into the season expecting to be where it is and comes out of a program with a strong championship tradition.
West Grand, in Kremmling, has two state football championships to its name, both won in a dominant stretch of the 1990s. It made the title game five times in that decade, including four consecutive years from 1995 to 1998.
The program hasn’t been at that level in recent seasons, but has still been the class of its corner of Colorado, finishing with a winning record in 11 of the last 15 seasons. Coming off a state quarterfinals playoff appearance last season, the Mustangs had high hopes when reporting to practice this summer.
“We talked last spring about getting into the hunt with this group, what it would take,” West Grand coach Chris Brown said. “We expected we had a chance. Any time you get this far, any time it’s down to the last four teams, it’s pretty special.”
Brown may know that better than any other coach in Colorado. In his 42nd year as a head coach in the state, he’s Colorado’s all-time leader in wins with 316.
West Grand has made the state semifinals 15 times in his tenure there.
This year’s squad has already proven to be the school’s best since dropping to 8-man football in 2010.
The Mustangs are 11-0 and coming off a 30-24 quarterfinals victory against Sargent, the team that beat them in that same round a year ago.
West Grand barely seemed to break a sweat through much of its regular season. It beat the next two teams in its league, Gilpin County and Soroco, 52-0 and 54-0 respectively. It didn’t allow a single point during league play, something Brown said was no fluke.
“Defensively, shutouts are hard to get. In 8-man, one kid can break away,” he said. “But, we have good athletes and we can move.”
It was a goal to the point that he said that even when he’d sub out the offensive starters for junior varsity players late in lopsided games, the varsity defense stayed in to play all four quarters.
Depth has been a big key and that’s allowed the team some unique opportunities. Brown said his six seniors only play on one side of the ball, a rare luxury in the world of small-school 8-man football teams.
“Back when we had 50 kids out in the 11-man days, we could do that,” he said. “Now it’s pretty unusual.”
Junior Luis Dominguez has been one of those who does play both ways and has been a standout figure on the stat sheet. He leads the team with 22 rushing touchdowns and four passing. He scored twice against Sargent.
He also has six interceptions on the season, two of which came against Sargent.
Hugh Wheatley, another junior, has scored 20 touchdowns, at least one in nearly every phase of the game including rushing (14), receiving (4), defense (1) and special teams (1).
It was all plenty to bowl over Soroco last month, but Brown’s been around long enough that he’s not taking this game for granted.
“I expect this to be a semifinal game. They’re all pretty tough,” he said.
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