Despite two "slip-ups" early in the season, Mesa Ridge's football team is confident in its ability to contend with the best of the best.
And although coach Rob Braaten is sticking with the old coach's philosophy, one game at a time, this Friday’s matchup between the Grizzlies and Pueblo West will test Mesa Ridge’s versatile squad.
The 4A Southern Football conference clash is The Gazette Preps Game of the Week.
Pueblo West will travel to CA Foster Stadium one week after being handed its first loss of the season by top-ranked Pine Creek, while the Grizzlies have hit their stride, winning four straight after a rocky 1-2 start.
“They are a quality team, and coach (Monte) Pinkerton always does a good job and they're probably one of the better teams on our schedule,” Braaten said. “If we are ready for them, we could be ready for a lot of people coming up but right now this week is what we are focused on because that offense of his is tough, and his special teams are always great. That’s the thing with coach Pinkerton, you have to make sure you can win that special teams battle too, so we’ve been working on that and hopefully we can give them a show.”
Aside from No. 17 Standley Lake, which the Grizzlies fell to 14-10 in Week 1, No. 7 Pueblo West is the highest-ranked 4A team they will see until Pine Creek in the last game of the regular season. Heading into Week 8 Mesa Ridge is ranked 19th in 4A.
“We had those two slip-ups earlier in the season due to injuries and some things but I think we are going to come out really big this Friday,” Mesa Ridge senior captain Dominick Fini said. “I know Pueblo West plays hard, and they are going to come and knock our heads off but knowing us we are going to swing a little harder.”
Mesa Ridge will face a run-heavy offense as Pueblo West has just 538 passing yards on the season, as compared to 2,034 rushing yards. Pierre Taylor leads the Cyclones’ attack on the ground with 848 yards, followed by Devyn Morgan with 555 yards.
But a run-heavy offense should be no trouble for Mesa Ridge, which boasts a deep defense with 12 players registering 10 or more tackles on the season.
The Grizzly defense is led by Jeremiah Doria who has 60 tackles through six games, and Fini who has 24 tackles for a loss.
“With our defense we try not to have ‘the guy,’ it’s designed that anyone can make the play so if one guy doesn’t get the job done it will spill out to a linebacker or a safety and we expect them to make the play,” Braaten said. “I’ve been blessed with some pretty good talent.”
The Mesa Ridge offense is even more balanced than its defense with eight athletes who have racked up more than 100 all-purpose yards. John Hubbard-Johnson leads the way on the ground with 674 rushing yards, while Ju-wan Edgerton leads the receivers with 593 yards. Junior Trevon Walker is a triple threat and is third on the team with 540 all-purpose yards thanks to 104 rushing, 205 receiving, 221 on kick returns, and 10 interception return yards. Grizzly quarterback DJ King has 1,166 passing yards and has a .635 completion percentage in seven starts.
“We have so many different receivers and so many different running backs, so many different attacks that there’s no way one team is going to be able to stop everything,” Hubbard-Johnson said. “That’s something special for us this year. And our O-line is just a wall of people and they move to get the blocks.”
CYCLONES-GRIZZLIES AT A GLANCE
Game data: Pueblo West Cyclones vs. Mesa Ridge Grizzlies … Friday at 7 p.m. at CA Foster Stadium … 4A Southern Football Conference game.
Media: Follow @LindseySquints and @HughJohnson707 on Twitter for updates, and follow GazettePreps on Snapchat for exclusive Game of the Week content.
Teams: Pueblo West is coming off its first loss of the season and looks to remain in the No. 2 position in the 4A Southern Football Conference. Mesa Ridge is buzzing on a four-game winning streak in which the Grizzlies have scored an average of 45 points. The Cyclones (6-1, 1-1) are ranked seventh in 4A according to MaxPreps, while Mesa Ridge (5-2, 1-1) is 19th.
Stat leaders: Mesa Ridge boasts a roster rich with talent and a well-balanced offense. John Hubbard-Johnson leads the Grizzlies with 674 rushing yards. Ju-Wan Edgerton leads a crew of receivers with 593 yards, while the defense is anchored by Jeremiah Doria who has 60 tackles through six games. … Pueblo West has a run-heavy offense led by Pierre Taylor with 848 rushing yards, followed by Devyn Morgan with 555 yards. Although the Cyclones limit their passing game, Nieyeme Smeyer-Williams leads receivers with 381 yards on 22 catches.