Red Devils fall to Cody in State Semis, 52-14
Turnovers, big plays costly in season-ending loss
The rollercoaster ride that was the 2023 season for the Evanston High School football team came to an end Friday night at Cody, as turnovers, bad breaks and big plays on the part of the home team combined for a 52-14 loss in the 3A State Semifinals.
“Friday was a tough one,” said EHS head coach Steve Moore. “We moved the ball offensively, we just had some untimely turnovers. Cody was clicking on all cylinders, it seemed like — they were getting big plays, and their special teams were giving them good field position. It just seemed like everything was going for them, and against us. The effort was there, the kids played hard — it wasn’t a matter of that. Things just didn’t seem to go our way.”
In a harbinger of things to come, the Broncs received the opening kickoff and returned it deep into Evanston territory, setting up shop on the Red Devils’ 10-yard line. Cody quarterback Maddax Ball scored on a keeper a couple of plays later, and after a missed extra point, the Broncs led 6-0.
Evanston appeared poised to answer on the ensuing drive, moving the ball into Broncs territory, highlighted by a 27-yard run by Brady Roberts, and a 17-yard pass from quarterback Cohen Morrow to Kai Barker. On 3rd-and-9 from the Cody 16, Morrow’s pass to the end zone was picked off by Trey Schroeder.
“The Cody kid made a heck of a play, because I was right there reading the same thing Cohen read,” Moore said. “Cohen made the right read, and that kid just made a heck of a play to sneak over, jump up and grab it. Like I said, we moved the ball, but the turnover bug and not finishing drives is what hurt us.”
Ball hit Trey Smith for a screen pass on second down, and Smith took it 64 yards for the Broncs’ second score of the night. The two-point conversion was good, and Cody led 14-0. Everything went the way of the home team following that score, with the Broncs increasing their lead to 42-0 by the break.
Cody’s coaching staff kept their foot on the gas for much of the game, including a bush-league onside kick with the Broncs up 35-0. The Red Devils’ defense caused a fumble on the ensuing drive, when Braunson Sims knocked the ball loose from a receiver and Drew Barker recovered. Evanston gave the ball right back with an interception, which Cody turned into its sixth touchdown of the first half.
The Red Devils scored twice in the second half — a 1-yard quarterback plunge by Morrow in the third quarter, and a 4-yard run by Roberts in the fourth, set up by a 47-yard run by the senior earlier in the drive. Evanston held the Broncs to 10 points in the second half, though Cody advanced to the 3A State title game for the fourth straight year with a 52-14 win.
“After the game, I just told the guys I wish I could say something to take the pain away, but there was really nothing I could say,” Moore said. “Coaches, kids — we were all disappointed, obviously, but they have nothing to hang their heads about. We definitely set the bar higher this year, and we all expected to be playing next week. That didn’t happen, but I told the kids to keep their heads up — the sun’s going to rise the next day, and it did.”
Roberts finished his high school career with 147 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Morrow followed with eight carries for 53 yards and a score, while Brecken Rich carried the ball four times for 13 yards.
Under center, Morrow completed eight passes for 124 yards and two picks. Clayton Cook caught two passes for 57 yards, while Kai Barker caught two for 28 yards. Drew Barker caught three passes for 27 yards, and Jordan Mendez caught one pass for 12 yards.
“Brady was a packhorse again for us — he ended up with well over 100 yards, so he carried us there,” Moore said. “We threw for a lot of yards, as well — our offense was moving the ball. Cody went down and scored, and we had that good drive going back. They got the interception inside the 10-yard line, and killed our momentum.”
Defensively, Roberts led the team with 15.5 points (12 tackles, 2 sacks), followed by Drew Barker with 13 points (4 tackles, 1 solo, 1 fumble recovered). Kai Barker (8 tackles, 3 solo) and Morrow (9 tackles, 1 solo, 1 tackle for loss) finished with 11 points apiece, while Brecken Rich (8 tackles) and Cole Robinette (6 tackles, 1 solo) finished with eight points and seven points, respectively.
Following the game, the team took the bus to Thermopolis, where they spent the night before returning to Evanston Saturday. Moore said the trip was subdued, though the players are resilient; they knew what they had accomplished this season.
“The bus ride to Thermopolis was quiet, but Saturday morning, they were up, and they were kids again,” Moore said. “They were disappointed, but I think they understand we grew a lot this year, and we became a better team. It was a good season.”
To start the season 0-2, and end it one game away from playing for a state title was quite the turnaround, and Moore credited the players for buying in and believing.
“I honestly feel as a coach that we got better every week,” Moore said. “Maybe not so much the Powell game and this game, but for the most part — week to week — we grew. We added to the playbook on both sides of the ball, and the kids learned it. “They were hungry — hungry all year to learn and get better, and I feel like we did that as a program, throughout the year.”
The Red Devils will graduate a host of seniors, and Moore said they will be a tough act to follow.
“We’re gonna miss those seniors, for sure,” Moore said. “There were 18 of them — 18 players, and one manager, so 19 total — and what a great group to walk into as a first-year head coach. When I had the team meeting last April after I got hired, they were all in. I didn’t have to worry about them not being at school, not being at practice, not keeping their grades up — they took that leadership role as a unit, and led this team. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to lead this team, as a first-year coach. They were tremendous. They’re great kids, and they’ll be greatly missed, for sure.”
That said, the coaching staff is encouraged by what they’ve seen from the JV and freshman teams, and are excited to see how the kids will progress in the offseason.
“I think our JV team only ended up losing one game to Star Valley,” Moore said. “You look at that unit, and they’re competitive — scrappy, physical, in-your-face type of players. We have some big shoes to fill with the seniors we’re losing, but this younger group, I’m excited about them.”
“It was a fun year, and my staff was awesome,” Moore added. “They worked their tails off. I do think we turned the page with this program, we set the bar higher. We’re just going to keep working.”