Playing in Pueblo hadn’t been pretty for Dakota Ridge in recent years.
In 2005 and 2007, the Eagles’ football season came to a close in the city to the south.
This year, that all changed.
Dakota Ridge, the No. 14 seed in the 16-team Class 4A state football tournament, toppled previously unbeaten and third-seeded Pueblo South 37-22 to advance to the quarterfinals.
“It was nice to finally get that monkey off our back,” said Dakota Ridge coach Ron Woitalewicz, whose team will host No. 6 Longmont (10-1) at 1 p.m. Nov. 15 at Jefferson County Stadium. “That was motivation for the kids during the week.”
As was the fact that the Eagles (8-3) hadn’t won a playoff game since reaching the 4A championship game in 2004.
“The seniors talked all week about how they hadn’t won a game in the playoffs since they’d been here,” Woitalewicz said. “They certainly had a chip on their shoulder.”
Dakota Ridge jumped out to a 21-10 halftime lead thanks to two rushing touchdowns by Andrew Melton (5 and 68 yards) and a 37-yard pass from Bolton Howes to Brian Vander Velde.
Melton scored his third touchdown of the game in the third quarter to increase the Eagles’ lead to 28-10. Steven Martinez scored on a 2-yard run and Michael Moores booted a 28-yard field goal in the fourth to put the game out of reach.
Melton finished with 248 yards on 25 carries while Howes was 13-of-19 passing for 172 yards with the one touchdown and one interception.
“We’re not one-dimensional,” Woitalewicz said. “If (an opposing team) wants to take away the run, we can pass. If they take away the pass, we can run.”
Howes, who took over the starting job from Cameron Pritchett midway through the season, has made the Eagle offense more dynamic.
“Cameron was playing with a bad shoulder, and that hurt his ability to throw the ball deep,” Woitalewicz said. “Bolton’s arm strength is more of a factor for us in the offense. He can really stretch the field and gives the defense someone else to think about.”