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Strength in numbers yields to high stakes for Grizzlies
Former ‘Tailback U' morphs into all-around threat
Prior to this season, opposing coaches could employ a singular approach to stopping the Mesa Ridge Grizzlies: focus on the tailback.
It worked in Mesa Ridge’s last playoff appearance in 2010. Workhorse tailback Phillip Rhodes was limited to 122 yards but was held out of the end zone as Wheat Ridge took him out of the game early in a 50-7 laugher in the first round.
That won’t work Saturday when Denver South meets the Grizzlies at 1 p.m. Saturday at C.A. Foster Stadium in Widefield. With senior quarterback Cody Groff throwing 26 touchdown passes and leading an offense featuring four different runners with at least 300 yards and eight receivers who have reached the end zone (and 12 overall), Mesa Ridge has diversified itself into a formidable foe, able to grind it out, air it out when it can and also turn to an opportunistic defense to make big plays.
“We’re definitely hard to scout,” said senior running back Curtis Crockett, who last year transferred from Sand Creek. “You can’t focus on one person like year’s past. We can runs plays with everyone. We can have every one of our weapons on the field at the same time.”
Crockett won the starting job out of summer workouts but suffered a foot injury that put him on the shelf for four weeks. That opened the door for junior Tremell Stanley, who gained 1,097 yards off 187 carries with 13 touchdowns, all team highs, before leaving last week’s win against Ponderosa with an ankle injury.
That’s the beauty of this year’s team. Someone always seems ready to step up and produce when it’s least expected.
“We really don’t have that one all star,” said senior wide receiver Chad Hovasse, who played as a freshman at Pine Creek before transferring south to Mesa Ridge but playing on the golf team the past two years. “We’re just a bunch of friends who share the ball. Whoever gets it makes things happen. That’s been working for us.”
In the three preceding seasons, Mesa Ridge’s leading rusher – Phillip Rhodes in 2009-10 and Devante Johnson last year – accounted for 56 percent of its offense. This year, Stanley leads the way at 28 percent, and the diversification has yielded its most successful season in school history.
“Teams have to look at us differently now,” Grizzlies head coach Rob Braaten said. “We knew we weren’t going to have that one big back, and we’ve done a good job of getting the ball into the right hands at the right times. We looked at a lot of film at the end of last year and what teams were doing to stop the run. We learned how we needed to adjust, and now we have plays with three or four receivers, some with no tight ends. We knew we would have to be more diverse.”