Red Devil gridders fall to Star Valley on road, 28-9

Red Devil linebacker Brady Roberts (No. 5) and teammate Braunson Sims (No. 22) take down a Star Valley ball carrier during Friday’s 28-9 loss in Afton. Evanston will host Jackson Friday for Homecoming, in a battle of 2-3 teams. (COURTESY PHOTO/Erica Bailey)

The Evanston High School football team opened conference play against one of the 3A West heavyweights Friday, falling to No. 2-ranked Star Valley on the road, 28-9.

The game was a fight in a phone booth for the first half of play, with the Red Devils giving their hosts all they could handle and then some, and trailing just 14-9 at the break. Unable to get the offense going in the second half, Evanston allowed the Braves some breathing room with two more scores, but proved to themselves — and the rest of the teams in 3A — that the Red Devils can hang with anybody.

“My thoughts on the Star Valley game was that it was a very physical, competitive high school football game,” said EHS head coach Steve Moore. “I felt that we definitely had our chances, but missed out on some opportunities throughout the game, especially in the first half.” 

Star Valley (4-1) scored on its opening drive, a 50-yard touchdown run by Jesse Leavitt. The Red Devils (2-3) answered with a 33-yard field goal by Jordan Mendez to make it 7-3, then forced the Braves to punt on their next possession.

After a Cohen Morrow fumble gave Star Valley the ball back at the Evanston 10-yard line, the Red Devils’ defense came up big, forcing a fumble of their own. As the ball rolled into the end zone, defensive back Braunson Sims scooped it up and scampered the length of the field for a touchdown. The PAT was blocked, but Evanston held the lead, 9-7.

Star Valley re-took the lead in the second quarter, an 11-yard touchdown run by Grant Thomson that made it 14-9. As time ran down in the second quarter, the Red Devils drove all the way down to the Star Valley 1-yard line, with a chance to take the lead going into halftime. On 4th-and-goal, the Braves’ defense held, and the home team escaped to the locker room with a 14-9 lead.

“The ending of the first half is something that I think could have made a big difference in the outcome,” Moore said. “If we score there — and take the lead into halftime — I think momentum and the mindset of our team would have been huge.”

Evanston’s defense continued to play well in the second half, though the offense was unable to replicate the drive at the end of the first half. The Braves scored twice more to put the game out of reach, ending the Red Devils’ bid to play Homecoming spoiler with a 28-9 win.

Evanston was held to 185 yards offensively, with the lion’s share of yardage coming through the air. Morrow completed 13 of 21 passes for 134 yards, with Brady Roberts and Kai Barker finishing with four catches apiece, for 61 and 37 yards, respectively. Drew Barker caught two passes for 23 yards.

Star Valley’s defense held the Red Devils to 50 yards on the ground, led by Roberts, with 34 yards on 17 carries. Morrow finished with 14 yards on six carries.

“I thought our passing game was effective against Star Valley, but we had a difficult time in our run game,” Moore said. “We did compete well — and our kids did many things well — but we went there for the win, not to just be competitive.”

Brecken Rich led the defense with 17.5 points (10 total tackles, seven solo, followed by Drew Barker with 15 (6 solo tackles, a forced fumble) and Braunson Sims with 14 (6 total tackles, 3 solo, fumble return for TD). Morrow finished with 11.5 points (6 total tackles, 3 solo, 1 pass defended), while Kai Barker rounded out the double-digit scorers, with 10 (5 total tackles, 3 solo, 2 tackles for loss. Cole Robinette had the team’s only sack.

The Red Devils host Jackson for Homecoming this week, a team Evanston lost to in double-OT last season. Both teams have identical 2-3 records, though the Broncos are among the leaders in 3A offensively, a fact not lost on Moore and his staff.

“Jackson is a solid football team,” Moore said. “They lead the 3A in passing, and are ranked second overall in team offense. We need to continue to work on our pass defense, and find ways to pressure the quarterback. Defensively, they are aggressive, and have some physical linebackers.”

Moore said he’s confident his team won’t allow Homecoming festivities this week to become a distraction, though he wants them to enjoy the experience, as well.

“Homecoming week is always a tricky week,” he said. “With all the different activities going on, it is important that we make school and football our priorities this week. Our kids know the importance of Friday night, and I know they will be focused and ready for a great game.”