Red Devils 2-2 with 40-6 win over Lander

Red Devil receiver Kai Barker outraces a Lander defender for a touchdown during Friday’s 40-6 win over the Tigers at Kat Fackrell Stadium. Barker scored two touchdowns on the night, while the Red Devils improved to 2-2 on the season. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Hutchinson, Roberts, Barker score 2 TDs apiece

The novelist Thomas Wolf once wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” meaning a place of your past will never be the same when you return.

That was indeed the case for former Evanston High School football coach Jim Burton. Now the head coach of the Lander Tigers, Burton returned to Kay Fackrell Stadium Friday night to face a Red Devils team that bares little resemblance to the team he coached just a year ago; many of the faces are the same, but the culture has changed under new head coach Steve Moore and his staff. Evanston carried the momentum of last week’s win over Riverton into Friday’s clash with Burton’s new team, routing the Tigers 40-6 to improve to 2-2 on the season.

“It was a good game — kids played hard, and it was nice to get some of the younger kids out there, get them some Friday night experience under their belts,” Moore said. ‘There were a lot of smiles, which was good to see.”

The Red Devils’ opening drive stalled just inside Lander territory, though a fumbled punt — jumped on by an alert Braunson Sims — gave Evanston back the ball inside the red zone. Running back Brady Roberts scored the first touchdown of the game on a nice 17-yard run, and with Jordan Mendez’s extra point, the Red Devils led 7-0.

The Red Devils’ defensive unit forced a punt on Lander’s first possession, and set up shop on their own 11-yard line. On the very first play from scrimmage, speedster Gabe Hutchinson followed his blocking up the middle, shook a tackler and sprinted 89 yards for a touchdown. With the only kid from Wyoming capable of catching Hutchinson in the open field now playing safety for Notre Dame, Moore said he knew once his runner hit his stride, it was most likely a score.

“We’ve been waiting for Gabe to break a long one,” he said. “It was good to see both him and Brady run well, especially in the first half.”

Leading 14-0 — and with their defense continuing to give Lander fits — the Red Devils continued their assault on the scoreboard. A 32-yard run by Roberts had Evanston deep in Tigers’ territory, where Kai Barker scored on a 14-yard end-around for the Red Devils third touchdown of the first half. Mendez’s extra point made it 21-0, but the home team wasn’t finished — with 2:53 left in the half, Hutchinson scored his second touchdown of the night on a 9-yard run. The PAT was no good, and Evanston led 27-0 at the break.

While the offense was impressive in the first half, the Red Devils’ defense was equally as stellar, allowing just 60 total yards in the first half.

“I don’t know if we played as well against Lander as we did against Riverton, offensively,” Moore said. “But the playbook was still pretty much wide open — we did a few passes, got the run game going again. Defensively, I thought we played much better. We read our keys very well, played pretty disciplined football, which was really good. It was by far the defensive unit’s best performance so far this season.”

Evanston added to its lead midway through the third quarter, when quarterback Cohen Morrow hit Kai Barker for a 31-yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked, though the Red Devils now led 33-0.

Lander’s most promising drive of the third quarter came to an end on a sack by Evanston defensive lineman Aiden Liechty that forced a fourth down on their own 31-yard line. A bad snap on the punt gave the Red Devils the ball on the Lander 40-yard line with 13 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Morrow hit Drew Barker on the first play from scrimmage, who made a nice fingertip grab on the sidelines for a 20-yard gain as the third quarter came to an end. After a penalty put Evanston back on the 22-yard line, Roberts scored his second touchdown of the night on a 22-yard run for the Red Devils’ final score of the night. Mendez’s extra point made it 40-0, and Moore began to empty his bench for the fourth quarter.

The Tigers spoiled the shutout late in the game, when Parker Burton scored on a quarterback keeper with three minutes to play. The extra point was no good, and the game ended with the home team celebrating a 40-6 win.

The Red Devils’ defense had their most productive outing of the season, holding Lander to just 139 yards of total offense. Asked if the defense’s play was the result of a familiarity with Lander’s offense, or the unit beginning to understand its keys and schemes better, Moore said the case could be made for a combination of the two.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” he said. “Obviously, they were familiar with what Lander was trying to do offensively, so that helps. But I also think that we’re coming together better as a unit — maybe understanding our assignments a little bit better, playing more sound, fundamentally. So, I think it’s a combination of both.”

Offensively, Hutchinson and Roberts each rushed for almost 100 yards, scoring two touchdowns apiece; Roberts finished with 98 yards on 16 carries, while Hutchinson had 107 yards on four carries. Brayden Wallace saw some time at running back late in the game, and ran well, collecting 24 yards on four carries.

“It was good to see Gabe and Brady both go over 100 yards rushing,” Moore said. “Even the younger kids — Braeden Wallace popped off a couple of nice runs. It was good to see.”

Moore also credited the offensive line for creating the lanes for Roberts and Hutchinson to run through.

“I’m really happy with the progression of the offensive line,” Moore said. “We kinda knew coming in that the line would be something we’d have to work on, and get that unit to gel. I think they’ve done a great job — coach [Jeremy] Fessler and coach [Chris] Link have done a great job with that group, along with coach [Mike] Fackrell. They’ve worked with those players on understanding their assignments, developing good technique — they’ve come leaps and bounds since Day 1, for sure.”

Under center, Morrow completed 6-of-13 passes, for 98 yards and a touchdown. Kai Barker was Morrow’s favorite target for the second week in a row, hauling in three passes for 56 yards and a score; Drew Barker caught two passes for 28 yards. Roberts caught one ball for 14 yards.

Defensively, Morrow led the charge with 12.5 points (9 total tackles, 3 solo), followed by Brecken Rich with 12 points (8 total tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack) and Cole Robinette with 11 (6 total tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack).

After four home games to start the season, the Red Devils hit the road Friday to open the 3A West Conference portion of their schedule, traveling to Afton to take on No. 2 Star Valley. The defending 3A State Champs are coming off a 56-6 win over Riverton, and are 3-1 on the season.

“Star Valley does a lot of things offensively, and they do them well,” Moore said. “A lot of different formations — they still like to throw the ball a lot, like they did last year. They rotate different quarterbacks in, do a lot of motion, things like that. They’re big up front, physical. They can open it up and spread it out, and if they want to tighten it down and play power football, they can do that, as well. We need to be ready for all of it. We’ll be able to play with them, if we stay disciplined. We need to play a clean game — limit the penalties, win the turnover battle and if we can win the time of possession, that will help, as well. We need to play the cleanest game we’ve played so far, for sure.”

A tall order, to be sure, but Moore said he likes where the Red Devils are at right now, and Friday’s contest should be a fun one.

“The kids are confident, they believe in what we’re doing, they’re working hard,” Moore said. “We have a good thing going — it’s going to be fun to go see what we got. They’re one of the best teams in the state, so we definitely have our hands full. Either way, it’s going to be good for us — no matter the outcome, we’ll get better as a team.”