In what many had hoped would be a glorious return to the newly-renovated Kay Fackrell Stadium last Friday for the EHS football team, Red Devils fans instead were treated to what has become the norm for this season: A solid defensive effort, offset by an offense that can’t seem to find its footing.
Friday’s contest against No. 2 Star Valley was the Red Devils’ Homecoming Game in more ways than one, as it marked the first time this season Evanston hasn’t had to cross state lines or travel over South Pass to play football. Unfortunately for the home team, the Braves (4-1, 1-0 in 3A West) were unmoved by all the festivities surrounding the christening of the new stadium and the recognition of this year’s EHS Hall of Fame inductees.
“Like every game this season, the effort and our defense were great,” said EHS head coach Jim Burton. “Offensively, we stalled – we had some miscommunication on how we were going to block things, and we didn’t quite get it resolved fast enough. We just need to make sure that we’re all on the same page.”
The game was a defensive battle from the start, with Star Valley forcing a quick 3-and-out, and the Red Devils (1-4, 0-1 in 3A West) answering by forcing a turnover on downs. Energized by the defense, Evanston’s offensive unit drove deep into Braves’ territory on their next possession, before a Cohen Morrow interception killed the drive at the Star Valley 24-yard line.
“We had times where we moved the ball really well,” Burton said. “It’s just making sure that we’re consistent, making sure that we get into the flow of things and get moving.”
Both teams continued with stellar defensive play – including a nice interception by Evanston’s Geo Cervantes – until the Braves finally broke the stalemate midway through the second quarter. Star Valley’s Jayden Crook scored the first points of the game on a 4-yard plunge, and the PAT made it 7-0. The Braves increased their lead to 14-0 in the final minute of the first half, when Kaleb Spalding scored from four yards out.
“Right before the half, that’s a coaching error on my part – trying to go and get a touchdown in short time, when we probably should have been more conservative, ran the ball a couple of times and went into the half down 7-0,” Burton said. “We gave them about a minute or so on the clock, and they had their timeouts, so that’s on me – coaching error, for sure. Hindsight is always 20/20 – we go and score there, it’s 7-7 at the half.”
Both teams’ defense continued to give the other fits throughout the second half, though Star Valley scored once more midway through the third quarter, a 16-yard touchdown catch by Chase Stewart. Stewart’s score made it 21-0, and that’s how the game would end.
“The second half, we held them to seven points,” Burton said. “Defensively, great things are happening, it’s just a matter of making sure we can move the ball and get in the end zone.”
The Red Devils managed just 99 yards on the ground, led by Brady Roberts, with 37 yards on 13 carries; Cohen Morrow followed with 17 yards on 17 carries. Under center, Morrow completed four passes for 24 yards, and was picked off twice; Kai Barker led the receiving crew with one catch for nine yards. Dylan Liechty, Geo Cervantes and Bryton Morris had a catch apiece, each for seven yards.
The Red Devils were led on defense by Roberts with 22 points, including an interception and a fumble recovery; Barker was second on the team with 21 points, and was a surprise start after an injury the previous week against Lander.
“We had Kai back for the whole game on defense, and we tried to limit what he did on offense, just to keep him fresh,” Burton said. “I think he dang near led the team in defensive points, so you can’t ask for too much more than that.”
Morrow finished with 20.5 defensive points, while Cole Robinette and Braunson Sims collected 16 points apiece. Cervantes finished with 14 points, while Karter Randall rounded out the double-digit defensive point-getters with 11.
“I’ve said this all along – we can play with anybody,” Burton said. “Now, we just have to be able to beat anybody. We’re getting there – it’s just a matter of getting over that next mental hurdle, as far as offense goes. Defense just hammers down, they’re keeping us in games.”
A couple of players were dinged up during the game, though Burton is confident he’ll have a healthy team going into Jackson Friday.
“We have a few guys that are a little tender, and we’re just waiting to see how much they can participate this week,” Burton said. “But the couple of injuries that we thought might be more serious, weren’t, so we should have some guys back. It shouldn’t be an issue.”
The Red Devils travel to Jackson (2-3) Friday, a team still reeling from a 54-7 loss to No. 1 Cody last week. Burton said not to let the score of that game fool you; the Broncs have beaten a couple of quality teams.
“Jackson is another team that likes to sling the ball around,” he said. “The past few years, they’ve had that really tough running back, but they graduated him, as well as some other studs. They’re not as good as they have been up front, but they’ve beaten some quality teams, like Douglas. They have a quick screen game, and they do take shots over the top. You definitely can’t overlook them, for sure.”