ARVADA - Pick Your Poison could easily be Ralston Valley’s motto on offense for 2012.
Emphasize defending the run and you’re likely to get burned by the pass, or vice versa.
And, either way, you never know which Mustang skill player will step up and hurt you the most.
In last Friday’s Class 5A playoff opener against Castle View, it was the passing game and, specifically, Spencer Svejcar as the second-seeded Mustangs rolled to a 45-0 victory at the North Area Athletic Complex. The team will host No. 15 seed Fort Collins this Friday at 7 p.m. at the NAAC in the second round.
“I just feel that if you’re going to face us, you’re going to have to prepare for both,’’ said Ralston Valley coach Matt Loyd, whose team improved to 9-1 with its seventh straight win since losing to No. 1 seed ThunderRidge. “We can do both equally well, I believe.’’
“They’re a two-headed monster,’’ said Castle View coach Ryan Hollingshead, whose team was a No. 31 seed and finished with a 5-5 record in its first year in 5A. “They can spread you out and throw well, and they can also pound it inside. They came in and exploited us with a little bit of speed. I think we were physical early with them, but we just couldn’t match their big-play potential.’’
Particularly Svejcar. The senior got back in the swing of the offense in a big way.
He turned a screen pass on the opening play from scrimmage into a 46-yard gain, setting up the first of three touchdown passes by Jacob Knipp, a 12-yarder to Keenan Gibson just 2:14 into the game.
Svejcar then got into the scoring act twice, turning short passes into 19- and 34-yard touchdowns, the latter for a 30-0 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter. Knipp was 11-of-14 for 155 yards.
“I hadn’t been in the flow as much (on offense the last couple of games),’’ sand Svejcar, who had five catches for 102 yards. “As of late, our ‘Stampede’ has really been working.’’
The “Stampede,’’ Svejcar said, is Ralston Valley’s “heavy, double-wing’’ offense that features the running game.
But for the Castle View game, “I think the game plan was to try and get me or any of our wide receivers out in the open and try to make some big plays.’’
Big plays weren’t limited to the offense.
The Mustangs scored a pair of defensive touchdowns on Jon Baumann’s 42-yard interception return and Jordan Anderson 2-yard fumble return.
“If you’re scoring on defense, things are going pretty good for you,’’ Loyd said. “Those were two great plays, too. I think about five different guys touched it on the fumble recovery. It was good effort.’’
Castle View’s first 5A playoff game sadly resembled the Sabercats’ final 4A playoff game last year, a 54-7 loss to Valor Christian where the second half was played with a running clock.
This time the mercy rule was applied with 3:52 left in the first half, and Loyd sat his starters for the second half.
Two fourth-down failures in Castle View territory - a fake punt and an incomplete pass- set up two short scoring drives for the Mustangs - didn’t help.
Neither did just 41 yards rushing on 16 carries in the first half, this from a team that averaged 179.3 yards per game rushing and had 409 yards the previous week to beat Legend and qualify for the 32-team, 5A field.
“If you’re going to pull an upset against these guys, you’ve got to roll the dice a few times, and it doesn’t always work,’’ Hollingshead said. “Our game plan is to control the ball and grind out first downs and wear out the defense. And we just weren’t able to do that.’’
Hollingshead also admitted, “We have a bad habit of getting intimidated maybe a little bit by these big teams (including Valor Christian last year).’’
But, he added, “We would have liked to been above .500. But I think we’re making progress; we have every year in this program. We’ve made the playoffs four years in a row. We’re 5A now, and we’ve got to grow up in 5A.’’
Hollingshead likes Ralston Valley’s chances of going far in the playoffs, especially with ThunderRidge and Valor Christian on the opposite side of the bracket.’’
“They deserve to be a top-four team,’’ Hollingshead said. “We played a couple of other 8-1 teams (Fountain-Fort Carson and 7-2 Valor) and I think they’re the best of what we’ve seen.’’
“Our guys are very, very focused,’’ Loyd said. “We don’t care who the opponent is, we’re very focused. I guess I didn’t expect it to be that easy, but we just came out and played well. Our guys were ready to go.
“But we have higher goals than the first game. Nothing against a first-round opponent, but our guys are focused and know that this is just one step in the process.’’