PUEBLO - Discovery Canyon's defense made the first statement Friday against Pueblo Central. Then the Thunder's offense did its part, and then some, in a dominating Week Zero performance at Dutch Clark Stadium.
Alec Wirtjes threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, and Discovery Canyon allowed only 105 total yards as the Thunder avenged last season's home playoff loss to Pueblo Central with a smothering, 28-7 victory.
When the Thunder won the opening coin flip and deferred to the second half, it was clear they wanted defense to set the tone. They did, giving the ball to Wirtjes after only six plays.
Then, it took only five plays for Discovery Canyon (1-0) to score and take the lead for good.
Facing a third-and-9 from the Central 33, the Wildcats sent a blitz, but Thunder fullback Zach Campbell picked it up beautifully. Wirtjes then had plenty of time to spot a wide-open Ben Gilson in the right flat, and the senior raced into the end zone for the season's first score with 5:39 left in the first quarter.
"After what happened last year, the way we started was the best thing that could have ever happened," said Thunder receiver and defensive back Michael Beiswenger, alluding to his team's 24-14 loss to the Wildcats in a first-round playoff in November. "It was great. We tightened everything up, and everyone did their job."
Pueblo Central (0-1) never found its offensive rhythm; its most-sustained drive amassed eight plays. The Wildcats' longest play netted 16 yards.
"We have a young line, but that's no excuse," Wildcats receiver and defensive back Michael Ranson said. "We should still run the ball with success. They're a good, physical team. What was different from the last game is the way they came out and made a stop."
Early in the second quarter, the Thunder added to their lead on a 21-yard pass from Wirtjes to Beiswenger.
Wirtjes, a senior, then gave one back, fumbling deep in Thunder territory and watching Ranson run 22 yards for a score that sliced the lead in half, 14-7, with 2:20 left in the second quarter.
"Those are Zero Week things," said Thunder coach Shawn Mitchell about his team's four lost fumbles. "We'll fix those."
In the second half, Wirtjes, who completed four of seven passes for 135 yards, threw the ball just once, letting the ground game do the dirty work and eat the clock.
In doing so, the Wildcats became obsessed with stopping the run, as evidenced by a Wirtjes 76-yard hookup with an uncovered Beiswenger that set up Discovery Canyon's final score with 8:58 left.
"This year, we're looking to pass more," Wirtjes said. "We haven't been a passing team. If people won't respect the pass, we're going to set it up with the run and put them to sleep. Then we'll pass it over them."