Red Devils advance with 28-7 win at Riverton
Sets up semifinals showdown Friday at Cody
The Evanston High School football team is going somewhere it hasn’t been since George W. Bush was in office, and many of the kids on the team were still in diapers: The semifinals of the 3A State Football Playoffs, courtesy of Friday’s 28-7 win over Riverton.
The first round of the playoffs featured the Wolverines — the top-seeded team out of the 3A East, and owners of one of the best passing attacks in the state, against the No. 4-seed Red Devils, back in the playoffs for the first time in five years. The numbers favored Riverton, but momentum — and heart — was on the side of the Red Devils.
“I thought it was a great game,” said EHS head coach Steve Moore. “I thought the resiliency of our kids after Riverton took the opening kickoff and drove it down the field and scored — I thought we bounced back from that really well. We drove down and got a score of our own, and then in the second quarter, we kind of got on a roll there, got some momentum on our side. It’s one of those times you wish there wasn’t a halftime — you just want to keep playing, and finish the deal, right there.”
The Wolverines wasted no time in silencing the Evanston faithful that made the trip, taking the opening kickoff, and marching down for the first score of the game, a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Darrick DeVries. Riverton made it look easy, much to the chagrin of the Red Devils coaching staff.
“We tell the kids all the time, Friday nights are not going to go perfect,” Moore explained. “It’s all how you respond to it, react to it, that’s important. We told them to pick their heads up, we’re going to be OK. And we did that.”
If the Red Devils themselves were worried, however, it didn’t show. Any trepidation on the part of the fan base (as well as the coaches) was immediately erased on Evanston’s ensuing drive. A steady dose of running back Brady Roberts — including a pair of 4th down conversions inside the Riverton red zone — culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run by the senior back. The PAT was no good, however, and the Wolverines led 7-6.
“For us to go down and score on the next possession was big,” Moore said. “I think that helped our confidence, and gave them some assurance that we’re going to be all right. Then our defense stepped up and played awesome the rest of the game.”
Evanston’s defense — after giving up a touchdown on the Wolverines’ opening drive — went into lockdown mode for what turned out to be the rest of the game, giving the offense a chance to cook. The second quarter was all Evanston, beginning with 15-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cohen Morrow with just under five minutes to play in the half. Looking to get back the point lost on the botched PAT from earlier, offensive coordinator Roy Barker reached into his bag of tricks, calling a halfback option for the two-point conversion. Morrow flipped the ball to Roberts, who turned back and floated a pass back to Morrow in the end zone for the score, giving the Red Devils a lead they would never relinquish at 14-7.
“When I heard the play, it didn’t click in my head until Cohen was pitching the ball to me,” Roberts said. “In my head, I thought to myself, ‘Oh shoot, I’m throwing the ball.’ It all happened so fast, but when it did work, I was actually jumping up and down from excitement.”
With time winding down in the half, Riverton went back to their passing game in an effort to even things up before the break. But two big defensive plays back-to-back by linebacker Cole Robinette – including a blitzing sack on DeVries – made it 4th-and-forever for the Wolverines on their own 30-yard line. Riverton’s punt was short, giving the Red Devils the ball in Wolverines territory. On the first play from scrimmage, Morrow faked the handoff to Roberts and shoveled a pass to Kai Barker, who followed his blockers to the corner, then sprinted 44 yards to paydirt, diving for the pylon before being knocked out of bounds.
“I remember walking up to the line and looking at the defense, and I knew it was going to be a huge play, just the way they were lined up,” Barker said. “Once I got the ball, I just followed [O-linemen] Jordan Welling and Steven Bowen as far as they could take me. After that, I read Drew [Barker’s] great block on the defensive back, and I don’t know if I’ve ever run that fast. When I got close, one of the Riverton players hit me, and I didn’t wanna go out of bounds, so I reached the ball out and dove.”
Jordan Mendez’ extra point made it 21-7, but the Red Devils weren’t finished. With less than a minute left in the half and Riverton driving, DeVries’ pass was picked off by Morrow, who returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. Mendez’s extra point pushed the lead to 28-7, as the teams went into the break.
Evanston couldn’t know it yet, but that would end up being the final score of the game. Moore said the mood in the locker room at halftime was upbeat, but he knew he had to keep his team focused.
“We stressed to them at our Monday meeting that we haven’t come out of the locker room real well the last couple of games,” Moore said. “The third quarter has kinda been our bugaboo, and we needed to get the point across that good teams come out of the locker room, and they keep playing well. I thought we did that against Riverton, I thought we responded well.”
Clock management became the name of the game in the second half for the Red Devils, with the offense doing all it could to chew up time, while the defense continued to give Riverton fits.
When the clock hit zeros, it finally sunk in that the Red Devils were headed to the semifinals, for the first time since 2007. The Red Devils fans and student section made their way onto the field, with hugs and handshakes in abundant supply.
“It’s always good to see kids happy, because they’ve put in the work,” Moore said. “They’ve busted their rear ends for quite some time now, and it’s good to see that it’s paying off. We tell the kids nothing is guaranteed — we can lift all summer long, we can do spring ball, we can do all these things — but nothing is guaranteed. It worked out for them Friday night, and hopefully they see that their efforts paid off.”
Roberts led the charge on offense for the Red Devils, with 159 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. Under center, Morrow threw for 109 yards and a touchdown; he also ran for a 13-yard score. Kai Barker caught five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.
“The O-Line played great, and gave me huge holes to run through,” Roberts said. “If we had to pass, Cohen would have had a ton of time.”
Defensively, Robinette led the team with 17 points, including two sacks; Brecken Rich also finished with 17 points. Kai Barker and Morrow finished with 12 points and 11 points, respectively.
The Red Devils will now square off against the Broncs at Cody in the semifinals, the winner securing their spot in the 3A State Championship Game. Moore said his team will be ready.
“We just need to read our keys, do what we’ve been coached to do,” Moore said. “We hung with them the first game — we need to put four quarters together, and play disciplined football. It will be a good football game, for sure.”