Cowboys football has high hopes for the season under new head coach Steve Darby, and while those goals still exist, the season opening 29-6 loss to Chino Valley showed Camp Verde that it has some work to do.
"They're still struggling with a new offense, they haven't mastered it yet, and that was very apparent in this game," Darby said. "It gave us coaches a lot of material to work on this week in practice."
Going into the game against the Cougars, the Cowboys were in a familiar position. They were matched up against a school that was more than twice its size, and like most teams they will be facing this year, were playing a team that knows its coaches offense, something that Camp Verde is still learning.
Despite the disadvantages, the Cowboys "played to the best of their abilities," and improved as the game progressed, and they settled down.
"Our kids played to the best of their abilities, but it showed us coaches that we have a lot of areas that we need to work on," Darby said. "That includes tackling, just basic, fundamental tackling, staying on their blocks longer and knowing the plays."
Almost as soon as the game began, the Cowboys were at a disadvantage. The Cougars ran a trick play, going 80-yards to the house and putting Camp Verde at an early 7-0 deficit. The Cougars scored two more first-half touchdowns, one more in the first and one in the second, before the Cowboy's defense got comfortable and began playing their game. After halftime, Camp Verde's defense held Chino Valley to zero scores in the third, including some goal line stands, before the Cougars scored a final touchdown and a two-point conversion in the final stanza.
"We seemed to have the first game jitters the first half, they scored 21 points on us, in the first half," Darby said. "First play from scrimmage, they did an 80-yard trick play, so we were down on the first play 7-0. Once our kids got settled down, started playing football and we made some adjustments to respond to some of the things they were doing, it was a fairly close game They only scored one more touch down the whole game, the whole second half."
While the defense found its footing and played strong through he rest of the game, the offense showed the coaching staff at Camp Verde that there is still some work that needs to be done. The lone Camp Verde score came in the second quarter, when junior quarterback Bodie Holowell connected with sophomore wide receiver Trever Heyer, who took the toss 10-yards into the end zone. While Heyer was the only Cowboy to score, junior fullback Curtis Corder and junior running back Jordan Reay both had runs for big gains. Corder ran 40-yards on a fullback draw and Reay scampered almost 60-yards on a sweep. One part of the game that does not always get praise is the offensive line. Senior lineman Devan Walls was key for opening up the runs for Reay and Corder, and did a good job blocking, according to Darby.
"Devan Walls, on the line, did a great job blocking for us," Darby said. "Eduardo Mora, on defense, on the defensive line did pretty good. Reay, Jordan Reay, as always, did a great job on offense and had a couple good runs. On defense he was getting in and breaking up plays. Alex Tapia, at middle linebacker, did a great job for us, but other than that we kind of struggled."
Despite the production from Heyer, Corder and Reay, the offense is still learning Darby's system. The Cowboys had "missed opportunities" to score goals, whether it was because of passes being over-or-under thrown, dropped balls or field conditions, the outcome of the contest could have been different.
"Offense struggled," Darby said. "We were not executing very well. We had several opportunities to score touchdowns and we had dropped balls, interceptions, the field was wet. We had a couple kids slip when we had no one in-between them and the goal line, so we had missed opportunities."
Darby was critical of his quarterback, Holowell, and his performance in the opener. Holowell made some bad throws, had a hard time knowing where to throw the ball to his receivers and threw two interceptions.
"He struggled," Darby said. "Part of the reason was pass protection, at times he was being chased, at other times he just made bad throws. He had time, but he over threw his receivers, or under threw. He threw two interceptions, which hurt us, any time you turn the ball over, it makes it tough."
Camp Verde knows that it will have to take it one game at a time, but Darby knows they will improve.
"We're going to get better throughout the season," Darby said. "We have good athletes, the kids have bought into the program, so it can only go up form here, we'll be OK. We're not be defined by one single game, we have a lot more work to do."