For three quarters Friday night, the Evanston High School football team gave the Riverton Wolverines all they could handle at Wolverine Field, putting up 14 points and creating several more scoring opportunities.
But a disastrous first quarter by the Red Devils proved to be the difference-maker — Riverton took advantage of a sluggish start by Evanston to put 21 points on the board in the opening frame, en route to a 42-14 win.
“You can’t spot a team like Riverton a 21-point lead and expect to be successful,” said EHS head coach Jim Burton. “And it’s not like they were throwing anything at us that we weren’t expecting — they weren’t running a triple option, or anything like that. We just came out flat, and they jumped on us.”
The Red Devils’ first-quarter woes began with the opening kickoff — the kick sailed out of bounds, allowing Riverton to set up shop on the Evanston 35-yard line. A 10-yard touchdown run by Wolverines quarterback Damon Devries capped the opening drive, and with the PAT, the home team led 7-0.
Jagger Mitchell got the start under center for the Red Devils, though their first series stalled. Again working with a short field, Riverton continued to move the ball well on the legs of running back Trayton Hyatt, though on second and 6 from the Red Devils’ 18, Jaxin Moore stepped in front of a Devries pass and scampered 82 yards for an apparent touchdown. A penalty nullified the interception, however, and instead of an Evanston touchdown, the Wolverines were given the ball back at the Evanston nine-yard line. It was a huge momentum-killer for the Red Devils, as Hyatt scored on an 8-yard run a few plays later; the PAT made it 14-0 Riverton.
“It ended up being a roughing the passer call, that was a huge momentum shift,” Burton said. “If it stood we would have been 7-7.”
The Wolverines scored once more in the opening frame, a 46-yard touchdown run by Devries, his second of the game. Riverton led 21-0 as time expired in the first quarter.
The Wolverines added to their lead with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Devries to Nathan Hutchinson early in the second quarter. Down 28-0, the Red Devils got things going on their first drive of the second quarter. Moore took over under center, and led Evanston on a 65-yard scoring drive, culminating in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Cade Francom. Micah Leichty’s extra point made it 28-7.
A nice defensive stand by the Red Devils late in the quarter resulted in a fumble recovery by Carson Knight on the Evanston 3-yard line, and the Red Devils went into the half still trailing 28-7.
After an Evanston turnover to start the second half, the Wolverines pushed their lead to 35-7 behind a 40-yard touchdown run by Devries, his third score of the game. The Red Devils were unable to find an answer to the speedy senior, who finished the night with 192 yards on 14 carries and three scores.
Evanston’s defense came up big at the end of the third quarter, pinning the Wolverines deep in their own territory. Faced with a fourth down, and punting out of his own end zone, Riverton’s punter elected to run the ball out of the end zone instead of kicking it away; the Red Devils took over on downs inside the 10-yard line. Back under center because of an injury to Moore, Mitchell barreled into the end zone from four yards out to make it 35-14 with the extra point.
Riverton scored once more in the fourth, a 5-yard touchdown run by Hyatt, to make it 42-14. The Red Devils had a chance to make things interesting, after a heads-up special teams play by Francom on punt coverage gave Evanston the ball first and goal on the 10-yard line. But the Wolverines’ defense proved up to the task, turning away Mitchell and the offensive unit four times to turn the ball over and run out the clock.
“We need to start faster, and then finish,” Burton said.
Moore led the charge on the ground for the Red Devils, with 57 yards on seven carries. Alternating between quarterback and running back, Mitchell carried the ball 17 times for 40 yards and a score. Junior running back Peyton Vernon had a solid outing, gaining 55 yards on 10 carries and providing a strong presence in the backfield.
Evanston completed three passes on the night — two to Francom, for 28 yards and a touchdown, and one to Cooper Morrow for 11 yards.
Carsen Knight had a busy day on defense, leading the team with 18 points — six tackles, including one for a loss, a fumble recovery and a pass defended. Mitchell finished with 10 tackles, seven unassisted for 17 points, while Francom recorded five tackles (four unassisted), a fumble recovery and a pass defended for 16 points.
Ryker Case had nine tackles on the night — including three solo — to finish with 12 points, while Wade Barker had six tackles (four solo) for 10 points.
The game was not without its casualties — Knight had to leave the game with a broken ulna, and it is uncertain if and when he can return. Jaxin Moore also finished the game on the sidelines, though he is expected to play this week in Lander.
“We are a little banged up, but so far Carsen Knight is the only player out for sure,” Burton said.
“Carsen had a great game prior to getting hurt, and Cade Francom had a big game in all aspects of the game. Jagger played well on offense and defense.”
Evanston is on the road Friday against 1-1 Lander. The Tigers — ranked No. 5 in last week’s 3A poll — are coming off a 31-0 drubbing at the hands of the Powell Panthers, and will be looking to right the ship. Burton said it will be another difficult test against a big, strong team.
“We need to be more efficient in the passing game,” he said.”We must take advantage of the opportunities we get.”