Ask Montrose High School football players what they expect from the 2020 season schedule, and their answer is simple: they’ll be tested.
“We’ve got a pretty good, hard, tough schedule and I think it’s going to be good for us. I think we’re going to get to test how good we really are,” senior lineman Colten Brueggeman said late last month after the first official fall practice.
“We have a good schedule,” said Keagan Goodwin, starting quarterback for MHS. “It’s tough teams. I’m excited to be able to show off what we got this year.”
Coming off a 10 win season and a quarterfinals appearance in the 4A State Football Playoffs in 2019, Montrose will have to repeat last season’s thunderous rushing attack to earn a playoff berth in 2020, and will have fewer games to do so — the Indians will play six games this season, and must play four to be eligible for the postseason, according to guidelines from the Colorado High School Activities Association.
A single loss could limit the team’s playoff aspirations as only eight teams will make the playoff bracket, which will be seeded by the CHSAA seeding index.
The Indians, a run-first team, averaged 378.3 yards per game last season and 8 yards per carry. In a 76-41 win against Denver South, MHS ran for a school-record 596 yards.
Though the Indians lost a pair of senior rushers in Emmert Kastendieck and Cole Simmons, who combined for 2,151 yards and 16 touchdowns, experience will remain a part of the mix as seniors Trent Blundell, Eli Evans and Trevaughn McCoy will handle carries for MHS while juniors Ethan Hartman and Tayne Ila will rotate in with the senior mix.
Brueggeman will be joined by sophomores Raul Rascon and DMarion Lopez on the offensive line attempting to open up holes for the set of MHS runners. Though younger and without too much experience under the Friday night lights, MHS head coach Brett Mertens said Rascon and Lopez are talented and getting off to a quick start will help the Indians establish their rushing attack.
“One of the keys is going to be whether that unit can gel early, and play at a high level,” said Mertens, entering his fourth year at Montrose, “... our backfield is talented. I think we got a lot of kids that can play in those roles. The key for us to be successful as a whole offensively is ball security, taking care of [the football] and not making mistakes.”
The physical condition of the players will be something to watch as the season unfolds. For game one, the team isn’t exactly where they need to be in terms of physical condition, though Mertens anticipates several teams are in the same position after a few weeks of practice and game action around the corner. Though fewer games means there’s potential for certain players to play on higher snap counts, the early season outlook is still muddled in terms of play time on both sides of the ball.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how all that plays out,” Mertens said. “I’m sure every team’s dealing with it. At the end of the day, we would like to have more kids play in more of a rotation, but bottom line, with only six games, you can’t afford to take a loss. So we’re going to have to do everything we possibly can to make sure our kids are in the game playing critical downs.”
Three-year starter Goodwin, a senior, will lead the team on the field. He threw for 561 yards and six touchdowns, and was nearly turnover-free with one interception in 74 pass attempts. Goodwin also showed some rushing ability, running for 191 yards on 30 carries.
CHSAA formed the season schedule for the 218 teams that opted into Season A (fall) — there was a quick turnaround for game action, leaving CHSAA needing to adjust league alignment and determine a new schedule.
The Indians were fitted into the 4A Western Slope League alongside Ponderosa, Palmer Ridge, Grand Junction Central, Fruita and Grand Junction, a group MHS went 3-1 against last season — the lone loss came from a 7-0 defeat to Ponderosa, and the Indians did not play Palmer Ridge.
Montrose welcomes a non-conference opponent, Chatfield, to start the season before settling into league play. The Indians will alternate home and away the next two weeks before embarking on back-to-back away games for four and five hour treks to Palmer Ridge and Ponderosa.
MHS will finish the season at home against Central.
“We got a great schedule,” Mertens said. “I think it’s probably, if not the toughest, one of the toughest schedules in all of 4A, and that’s the way we want it because in order to be the best team you have to beat the best team.”
Defensively, starting junior middle linebacker Bode Greiner returns after recording 65 total tackles in 10 games a season ago, and to a defense that recorded 16 interceptions and 12 sacks.
“Defensively we look better than we did last year, and we were solid on defense last year” Greiner said. “It’s a whole new level. Our defense is going to be stacked.”
He’s joined by senior lineman Raul Martinez, who ranked third on the Indians with 52 total tackles.
A good portion of the Indians’ pass catchers were lost to graduation ,including Riley Barnhill (11 catches for 233 yards), but Evans and Blundell are options out of the backfield and Ashden Oberg, a junior wide receiver, offers a target for Goodwin.
In preseason rankings released by CHSAA, Montrose is ranked 7th while league rivals Ponderosa and Palmer Ridge are ranked 4th and 5th.
Montrose has made the playoffs in each of the three seasons Mertens has been at the helm and is 28-8 over that span, including 21-4 over the past two seasons.
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press