On Friday, Manitou Springs football faced its biggest, baddest competition this year.
In the end, the Mustangs humbly accepted a 45-14 loss to defending Class 2A champ La Junta in Tri-Peaks League action at windy Richardson Field. But the defeat had some bright spots, including Manitou Springs' effort to score even as a running clock was issued early in the second half.
La Junta improved to 5-1, 2-0 in league play.
"We were down by a lot of points," said Mustangs senior running back/cornerback Jace Gwynn, "but I see everyone fighting."
The night started out rough as strong winds forced coaches to put holders on kickoffs so the ball wouldn't fall down and caused throws and kicks to go in all directions.
"The wind was so crazy," Manitou Springs coach Cory Archuleta said.
Despite the conditions, the Tigers jumped out to a 20-0 first-quarter lead.
Three minutes in, shifty running back Zach Archuleta scored from 27 yards. He had another touchdown from 26 yards before Jon Nuschy ran untouched from 14 yards after the Tigers recovered a fumble.
La Junta - which captured its first state title in 58 years last season - didn't stop its offensive onslaught.
Wyatt Buhr marched in for a 1-yard score early in the second quarter after the Tigers blocked a punt and got good position at the Manitou Springs' 17. They didn't score again until about 2 minutes left in the half, when Archuleta had his third touchdown from the 1-yard line to give the Tigers a 33-0 halftime lead.
Archuleta and Buhr each had two short touchdown runs in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
"We didn't have the manpower or strength that those guys have," said Archuleta, the Mustangs coach, referring to a La Junta roster with 50 players (compared to Manitou Springs' 24) and linemen over 6 feet tall. "They looked like they had an army on the sidelines. And we just didn't have enough firepower to fight back. We had a lot of fight in the end, and I think that's our biggest thing.
"We never quit."
That attitude was apparent in the fourth, when quarterback Jake Haas scored two touchdowns. The first, from 4 yards, was set up on a 46-yard scramble by Gwynn, who ran in the 2-point conversion.
Then, as time ran out, Haas ran a score in from near midfield.
The Mustangs (3-3, 1-1 TPL) were quick to move on from the loss. Next week, they play at Salida and could see the return of their starting quarterback, Cole Sienknecht, who injured his right throwing shoulder in a 27-12 win over Englewood on Sept. 22.
"He's a huge part of our entire team," coach Archuleta said about Sienknecht. "He's a leader, on and off the field, so he'll be back."