Many things are on Montrose High School football coach Brett Mertens' mind during a game.
Play-calling, substitutions and clock management are some of what Mertens ponders over on the sideline.
Balance is not something the coach ever thinks about.
Montrose, the No. 4 seed in the Class 4A playoffs, has won 10 of its 11 games this season thanks to its rushing prowess. The Indians have consistently created holes in opposing defenses for its many rushing options, from quarterback Keagan Goodwin to hybrids Eli Evans and Riley Barnhill to running back Emmert Kastendieck to bruising fullbacks Cole Simmons and Tayne Ila.
"The only time we need more balance is if we can't run the football," Mertens said. "As long as we can run it, we don't need to throw it."
The Indians average 35.6 points this season, which includes the offense's outlier outing, a 7-0 Metro Conference-deciding loss to Ponderosa. Rarely did Montrose's offense need to go airborne.
The Indians stuck to its run-first mentality in a 28-13 win over Brighton in the first round. Goodwin's lone completion, a 20-yard pass to Simmons, was brought back because of a penalty. The rest of the Indians' 349 yards of offense all came on the ground.
Why force balance when one facet is clicking so well?
"It's always nice to be able to throw the ball," Mertens said. "We work on that stuff. It really comes down to whether they're giving it to us. If we can get something easy in the passing game, we'll certainly take that. But we're not going to force it. As long as we can run the football, that's what we want to do, and everybody knows that."
Everybody includes Montrose's quarterfinal opponent, fifth-seeded Pueblo West (10-1). The Cyclones aren't strangers to the Western Slope, as they defeated Fruita Monument in the season opener 35-13 at Stocker Stadium. In that game, Pueblo West and Fruita each ran for 187 yards, but the Wildcats needed 50 carries to get there and the Cyclones only needed 31. Chandler Mason also won the passing battle, throwing for 120 yards and a score, including 94 to Dawson Menegatti.
Pueblo West leans more on the run, and like Montrose, it has options. The Cyclones' rushing game, which averages 225 yards, is led by Jeremiah Sanchez (698 yards, 4 touchdowns), Matt Rudd (580 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Mason (575 yards, 12 touchdowns).
"I think it's going to be a good, physical game," Mertens said of Saturday's game, which kicks off at noon. "These are two teams that are pretty similar in terms of wanting to get after it. It's going to come down to who's more physical. The more physical team will win."
Mertens used CHSAA's scheduling to his benefit last week. After the Indians won Friday night, he took a road trip to Pueblo to watch the Cyclones' 27-7 first-round victory over Golden.
He was impressed by what he saw. Pueblo West's rushing attack isn't as potent as Montrose's, but it has a passing game to make up the difference. Mason has thrown for nearly 1,500 yards with a 21-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His top target, Menegatti, has 554 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
"They're a very good football team," Mertens said. "Pretty physical offensive line, good backs, good quarterback and a couple of really, really good receivers, too. Defensively, they fly around and they hit. We weren't able to find a lot of weaknesses and go, 'Oh, hey, we've got to take advantage in that area.' "
Mertens knows that if the Indians are to make it to the semifinals for a second straight season, Montrose is going to need more than zero passing yards to do it, even without committing to a balanced approach.
"We know we're probably going to have to hit a few Saturday to be able to move the football consistently," Mertens said. "We're fortunate to have another home game and we're excited. We certainly don't take being in the playoffs for granted. We're excited to go out and play as well as we can."