Nucla routs Plateau Valley for first victory
COLLBRAN — Plateau Valley and Nucla no doubt would like to stop meeting like this.
The past few years, they have ended the regular season with a game against each other that decided which team would be the final entrant from the Class A-8 Western Conference West Division to advance to the league’s cross-bracket games against the Mountain Division.
Saturday brought the same stakes and an added incentive: Each team was seeking its first win in a season in which both squads were consistently routed by their opponents.
After a slow start, Nucla was the one who got to feel what it was like to be on the other side of a lopsided win, triumphing 70-16.
“We finally just decided to play,” Mustangs head coach Kelly Arnold said. “We’ve all been waiting for it to happen. I think they finally decided to put it all together and play a full game.”
Three quarters of a game may have been more accurate, including one incredible second quarter in which Nucla scored 54 points. That came after Plateau Valley took an 8-0 lead — its first points in six weeks — after one quarter and appeared game to stop the Mustangs’ running game, even though two of Nucla’s skill players, 200-pound Seldon Riddle and 230-pound Keenan Bruce, dwarfed many of the Cowboys’ defensive players.
“We can’t use size as an excuse for what’s not going right or going our way,” Arnold said. “It boils down to effort more than anything, effort and execution.”
The Mustangs got more of each when they turned to the passing game, scoring on a mix of long strikes and short passes to the flats in which receivers shed multiple tacklers as they ran down the sideline. Their running game in the second quarter was mostly quarterback scrambles, which also proved effective.
The quick strikes happened with greater frequency thanks to Plateau Valley turnovers, six of them in the first half, including an interception return for a touchdown that put Nucla ahead 54-16 with 1 minute, 32 seconds left in the half.
“We’re young, and we’re not real physical, and when someone gets after us like that ... it caused us to make mistakes,” said Plateau Valley head coach Dave Bristol, whose roster of 20 players includes five freshmen and four sophomores.
The Cowboys have five seniors, but only one was on the field at the end of the game, and an early injury cost the Cowboys their most dangerous offensive weapon, senior tailback/quarterback West Castro. He broke his collarbone on the opening possession while making a block, “and I just came down weird on it,” he said.
“Losing West right off the bat really hurt,” Bristol said. “The biggest part of our offense is moving him around.”