Durango expects to win games with its potent spread offense, led by a star tailback and a third-year starting quarterback.
It was the defense, however, that shut the door on state runner-up Del Sol in the second half and helped the Trailblazers to a 21-14 road win Friday in the season opener for both teams.
Durango trailed 14-0 at halftime but held the Dragons to 23 yards of offense and one first down in the final 24 minutes.
“Everybody was nervous. We weren’t really ready to play ball. We had to dig deep to find ourselves and just play,” said Judas Smith, one of the defensive leaders. “(We had to) just play defense. They weren’t ready for us. We just hit them hard and kept hitting them.”
The unit was a bit of a concern coming into the season.
“Last Saturday at our scrimmage, our defense really struggled. So we put a lot of time into trying to adjust it and fix it,” Durango coach Gary Maki said. “We moved the pieces around a little bit, and they just played inspired ball. They kept us into the game until the offense got it going in the second half.”
Chase Roberts threw for 158 yards and two touchdowns and Julio Mora ran for 99 yards and a score, but senior Donovan Smith emerged as a multi-purpose threat for the Trailblazers offense.
He lined up all over the field, including taking direct snaps in the backfield, and finished with 10 carries for 87 yards and five receptions for 70 yards.
Maki said the team designed many of the plays for Smith last year, but he missed the second half of the season because of a broken arm before he could be incorporated into the offense.
“I got hurt last year, but the coaches knew I was a good player. Going into this season, they said they were going to rely on me a lot,” Smith said. “They try to get me the ball in all sorts of ways, and I like that.”
Smith had a long run to help set up Durango’s first touchdown, a 14-yard pass from Roberts to Michael Massaro in the third quarter.
Roberts struck again with a 19-yard TD pass to Michael Neighbors, but after a missed extra point after the first touchdown, the 2-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Trailblazers down, 14-12.
The Dragons mishandled the ensuing kickoff and started from their 1-yard line. After a three-and-out, Del Sol’s third straight such sequence, Durango got the ball at the Dragons 41.
The Trailblazers failed to cross the goal line after picking up a first down at the 2, but Antonio Beccerra hit a 25-yard field goal to give Durango its first lead.
Mora tacked on a short scoring run with 2:23 left.
Chris Marshall ran for 124 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown run and a 37-yard run to set up another score, in the first half for Del Sol. Like the rest of the Dragons offense, he sputtered in the second half, losing 3 yards on three carries.
Troy Miller threw for 73 yards and a touchdown for Del Sol but went 2-for-7 with an interception after the break.
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