Homecoming Heroics! Red Devils cruise
Morrow throws 4 TDs; defense shines in 47-14 rout
The knock on the Evanston High School football team this season has been its pass defense — ranked 12th in the state heading into Friday’s Homecoming contest against Jackson, the Red Devils have had a rough go against teams that like to air it out.
Conversely, the Broncs (2-4, 0-2 in 3A West) came into Kay Fackrell Stadium Friday as the top-ranked passing offense in the state, with quarterback Harrison Ward and his crew averaging 332 yards per game. On paper, Homecoming was shaping up to be a mismatch of epic proportions.
Except somebody forgot to tell the Red Devils.
With 249 yards passing and four touchdowns from quarterback Cohen Morrow, and a defense that held the Broncs in check for most of the night, the Red Devils (3-3, 1-1 in 3A West) trounced Jackson 47-14 in front of a raucous crowd, giving head coach Steve Moore his first Homecoming win at the helm, and putting Evanston in great position for a shot at the postseason.
“I’m just happy for the kids,” Moore said. “They’ve worked their tails off for quite some time. I told them after the game, you think about spring ball, think about all the time in the weight room over the summer, 3-a-days — they’ve worked hard, and it was just good to see all the smiles, and them enjoying the night. It was fun.”
As for the Red Devils’ defense, Moore said Friday’s performance was long overdue.
“We hammered home to our defense all week long that Jackson is a passing offense, tops in the state,” he said. “We didn’t agree with where we were ranked, and Friday night was a great chance to prove that they shouldn’t be as low as they are. I think they came out with a little attitude, a little chip, wanting to prove something, for sure.”
The Red Devils’ defense took the field looking to make a statement, and did so on Jackson’s first play from scrimmage. A handoff to the Broncs’ Thomas May was blown up in the backfield by linebackers Morrow and Cole Robinette, setting the tone for what was to come; Jackson was forced to punt a few plays later.
“Set the tone,” Morrow said, when asked what the defense’s mindset was coming into the game. “Coach Wag [Garth Wagstaff] had us amped up and ready to play for him Friday, and we knew we could beat their O-line off the ball, so our D-line just freed up our backers. That’s when we knew we had the game won.”
Evanston’s first drive sputtered, but the defense once again showed they came to play, forcing a turnover on downs. It was linebacker Kai Barker coming up big for the Red Devils this time around, wrapping up May on 4th-and-1 to give the home team the ball back.
Setting up shop on the Broncs’ 45-yard line, Morrow hit tight end Clayton Cook for a 16-yard gain. A nice run by Brady Roberts brought the Red Devils down to the 10; on the very next play, Morrow rolled right and hit Roberts for a 10-yard touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, Evanston held a 6-0 lead.
Jackson’s offense showed signs of life on its next possession, putting together a sustained drive that resulted in the Broncs’ first score of the contest, a 10-yard touchdown run by May. The extra point gave Jackson its first — and, as it turns out, only — lead of the game, at 7-6.
Not content to let the Broncs lead any longer than necessary, the Red Devils came out throwing to start the second quarter. Following a 9-yard pass to Kai Barker on 3rd-and-3, Morrow found an open Cook across the middle on first down for a 64-yard touchdown. Jordan Mendez booted the extra point, and Evanston once again held the lead at 13-7.
Jackson was able to drive into Red Devil territory on their next drive, though Evanston’s hard-hitting style of defense continued to keep the Broncs just out of scoring range. Facing a 4th-and-4 on the Red Devils’ 29, Jackson elected to go for it, handing off to receiver Seb Brunner on an end-around. Reading the play was linebacker Brecken Rich, who knifed in to make the tackle for a loss, and forcing the turnover on downs.
The two teams traded punts, and with their next possession, the Red Devils began at their own 40. After a 4-yard pass to Drew Barker, Morrow hit Kai Barker in the middle of the field, who made a nice move to the sideline and scampered all the way down to the Jackson 10-yard line. Two plays later, Morrow found a diving Drew Barker in the corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown; Mendez’s extra point made it 20-7, Evanston.
With time winding down in the first half, the teams traded punts yet again, with Kai Barker’s punt burying Jackson down on their own 7-yard line. Forced to punt after advancing the ball to the 30-yard line, the Broncs lost track of Clayton Cook, who blocked the punt, then scooped it up and dove into the end zone for the score. Morrow hit a leaping Kai Barker in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion, and as the half ended, the Red Devils went into the locker room with a 28-7 lead. A prayer thrown to the end zone by Jackson quarterback Harrison Ward was picked off by Braunson Sims as the clock hit zeros, ending the Broncs’ bid to cut the gap before the break.
“The kids were excited with the lead, but one thing we noticed watching film, is Jackson is a better second-half team,” Moore said. “We made sure the kids were aware of that in the locker room, because 28-7 in high school football is a lead that can disappear quickly, in just a couple of plays.”
The Red Devils picked up right where they left off to start the second half, beginning with a nice return by Kai Barker on the opening kickoff to the Jackson 47-yard line. Morrow connected with Brooks Searle for a big gain down to the Broncs’ 13-yard line, and two plays later, Morrow rolled right and hit Roberts for a 10-yard touchdown. Mendez nailed the extra point, and Evanston led 35-7.
A nice return gave Jackson the ball at the Red Devils’ 41-yard line, but Evanston’s defense continued to swarm, forcing Ward into his second interception of the night, this time by Kai Barker.
Taking over on their own 32-yard line, the Red Devils put together a sustained drive designed to eat clock, culminating in a bruising 18-yard touchdown run by Roberts, his third score of the night. The two-point conversion was no good, and Evanston led 41-7.
Jackson responded with its best drive of the second half, highlighted by a long pass from Ward to Seb Brunner that had the Broncs 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
Ward called his own number on the next play, and tried a sweep around the right corner. Roberts caught him from behind and knocked the ball loose, and — for the second straight week — Braunson Sims found himself in the right place at the right time, scooping up the loose ball, and sprinting 98 yards to the house. Mendez’s PAT was blocked, and the Red Devils led 47-7.
On the final play of the third quarter, Jackson’s Ward threw a swing pass to the flat. As the receiver turned upfield he was popped by linebacker Cole Robinette, a monster shot that elicited a collective gasp from the stands, as well as a frenzied response from the players on the sidelines. The play — and its response — seemed to encapsulate the Broncs’ night.
“It was definitely one of my best hits,” Robinette said.
“We tried to make life not so fun for No. 1 [Seb Brunner], and Cole took that job and did great with it,” Moore said. “The defense put pressure on the QB, we didn’t let him get comfortable, and I thought our D-line and backers did a great job of getting after it. Our defensive backs haven’t gotten a lot of love this year, but I thought they showed their true potential Friday night, and did a great job.”
In the fourth, Moore emptied his bench, giving his younger players an opportunity to experience a Homecoming win. Jackson scored once more to bring the final score to 47-14; it was the second Homecoming win in three seasons for the Red Devils.
“It’s great, especially in a Homecoming game, to get those kids in there,” Moore said. “Some of them got their first Friday night experience. It was a little chaotic, figuring out who goes where, but I would take that every Friday night, if we could have it.”
The Red Devils finished with 362 yards of offense, led by Morrow’s 15-of-24, 249-yards passing and four touchdowns under center.
“Cohen’s really growing up as a quarterback — he hasn’t had a chance to be this kind of drop-back-and-pass type of QB the last few years, so it’s all new to him,” Moore explained. “So you can see it’s all starting to come together. He’s just doing a great job.”
Morrow spread the ball around to six different receivers, with his favorite target of the night none other than Clayton Cook. The junior hauled in four passes for 100 yards and a touchdown; he also blocked a punt and returned it for a score.
“Ol’ Cookie had a night, didn’t he?” Moore said, laughing. “That was great. Especially that first half — he had that long pass, and that kid came up to tackle him. Clayton’s a big, strong kid — he spent a lot of time over the summer in the weight room — and it definitely paid off on that long run, that kid just slipped off him. Then he got to turn on the jets a little bit, show off the speed. Then he blocked a punt, and had the awareness to scoop it, and dive into the end zone. Man, what a night for him. He was definitely all smiles, and we’re sure glad we have him.”
Kai Barker also caught four passes for 68 yards, while Brooks Searle (40 yards), Brady Roberts (22 yards) and Drew Barker (11 yards) caught two passes apiece. Both of Roberts’ catches were for touchdowns, while Barker also caught one for a score.
“Brady Roberts is just a good football player,” Moore said. “What I really like about Brady is, the first half, Jackson took him away, as far as the run game. But it doesn’t bother him. He wants to win — at the end of the day, it’s about winning, and I sure appreciate that. He understands that when they take the run game away, we have other options. That’s the great thing about Brady.”
Defensively, the Red Devils were led by Sims, with 18 points (3 solo tackles, a fumble recovery for a touchdown, an interception). Robinette followed with 13.5 points (8 tackles, 5 solo, .5 tackle for loss), while Drew Barker finished with 14 points (6 solo tackles, 1 pass defended).
“Just watching film, reading my keys and getting to my drops really seemed to help me be in the places I needed to be,” Robinette said of his performance. “The coaches had come up with a really good defensive scheme, and it just worked extremely well.”
Kai Barker (13 points: 4 tackles, 2 solo, 2 for loss, interception), Morrow (11.5 points: 6 tackles, 3 solo, 1 pass defended) and Cook (10 points: 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick) rounded out the double-digit scorers.
The Red Devils make the long bus trip to Powell Friday to take on the 5-1 Panthers, who lost in dramatic fashion to Star Valley last weekend, 24-21. Head coach Chase Kistler’s squad is another team that likes to air it out, and — if given the chance — can score quick, and in bunches.
“Powell has a great thing going — they’re second overall in offense, Top 4 in passing, No. 1 defense,” Moore said. “They’ve got a good program, a good team. We’ve got to get to work this week. It’s a long trip, but that’s what we do in Wyoming — everybody does it. We’ll have a good week of prep, and get up there and see what we can do Friday night.”
Morrow said if the Red Devils can play like they did against Jackson, anything is possible.
“We just need to get our heads straight,” he said. “It’s a long drive up to Powell, and we need to know it won’t be a walk in the park. If our offense can score and defense play as tough and physical as we did against Jackson, we can go up there and steal a win.”