Englewood had been driving for nine minutes, and the gloom was thickening for Manitou Springs.
The Mustangs had lost two straight games and their defense looked helpless on the opening drive against visiting Englewood.
Then Cole Sienknecht intercepted a pass, altering a game and, maybe, Manitou’s season.
"Huge,” Manitou coach Cory Archuleta said. “That interception was huge. It changed the game. It was a huge momentum changer for us.”
Englewood quarterback Brock Breazeale rolled right, and Sienknecht followed him. He broke in front of Breazeale’s pass and raced 50 yards to the Englewood 35. He almost scored.
The interception pushed Manitou to a 27-12 victory on an exceedingly strange night of football. The Mustangs moved to 2-2 for the season. The Pirates fell to 2-2.
Englewood was penalized 18 times. An assistant coach was ejected, and so was a player. For much of the night, the Pirates conducted themselves like, well, Pirates.
Englewood coach Jay Graves has coached 27 seasons. Has he ever seen a game like this one?
“No, I haven’t,” he said in a courteous voice. “You saw the game. We just came down here to play the best football that we can. Sometimes you don’t get calls to go your way, but there’s no call for it, you know. We’re men. We should play football the way we’re supposed to play.”
Still, Englewood’s escapades were only a diversion to the theme of the night: Manitou’s revival.
The Mustangs were powerful on the ground, as Jayden Omi, Jake Haas and Jace Gwynn repeatedly ran through and around the Pirates.
Manitou runs a single-wing offense, which was a state-of-the-art attack in 1945. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the last NFL team to operate in the run-obsessed offense. The Steelers moved into modern times in 1950.
George Rykovich installed the single-wing at Manitou in 1979 and for nearly every season since the Mustangs have brought life to the antique, nearly extinct offense. Rykovich led the Mustangs to 222 wins and two state titles. Under Rykovich’s direction, Manitou players developed an intimate understanding of the quirky offense.
The problem for opposing defenses is easy to explain.
“Nobody knows how to stop it,” Sienknecht said, laughing. “It’s just fun. Our linemen love it. It’s just a fun offense to play in. It’s different, but it’s fun.”
After Sienknecht’s interception, Omi scored on an 18-yard run. On the next series, Sienknecht found Haas wide open in the end zone with a 25-yard pass to push Manitou to a 14-0 lead. Englewood would threaten, but the penalties and ejections drained the Pirates' comeback.
Manitou is facing tough odds this season. Englewood’s sideline was relatively packed. The Pirates boast a 33-man traveling roster.
The Mustangs have only 22 players, and eight are sophomores and freshmen.
“Our sideline is really sparse,” Sienknecht said. “It doesn’t give us as many options, but it makes us work twice as hard.”