Red Devils tame Wolves; advance to postseason

Red Devil running back Brady Roberts carries a bunch of Green River defenders en route to 191 yards and two touchdowns Thursday, as Evanston beat the Wolves 44-20 in the regular-season finale. The win put the Red Devils in the playoffs for the first time since 2018. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Will face top-seeded Riverton Wolverines Friday

The Evanston High School football team is headed back to the 3A State Football Playoffs for the first time since 2018, courtesy of a 44-20 win over the Wolves last Thursday at Green River.

Led by a 191-yard, 2-touchdown performance on the ground by running back Brady Roberts —  as well as an opportunistic defense that forced three turnovers on the night — the Red Devils avoided the need for a tie-breaker to decide the fourth seed out of the 3A West, claiming the spot outright.

“I thought we came out and played a really good football game,” said EHS head coach Steve Moore. “It was a different week for us, in terms of preparation — with fall break, and then having a game on Thursday, it was a little out of our routine. You worry about things like that as a coach, but I thought the kids responded well, and took care of business, for the most part.”

For the seniors on the team — who were all in middle school the last time the Red Devils made it to the postseason – the years of hard work are finally paying off.

“It feels great,” said quarterback Cohen Morrow. “Me and all the seniors have been telling each other that the playoffs are what we’ve always wanted, and for us to be the main guys leading this team into next week is something special for all of us.”

After forcing a 3-and-out on Green River’s opening possession, the Red Devils wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Setting up shop on their own 39-yard line, Evanston began with a steady diet of Brady Roberts, followed by a 19-yard swing pass from Cohen Morrow to Kai Barker that brought the Red Devils down to the Green River 20. Morrow scored on a QB keeper a couple of plays later, and Evanston led 7-0 with 5:43 left in the first quarter.

The Red Devils’ defense forced another 3-and-out, but a bad Green River snap sailed over the punter’s head and into the end zone. Forced to bring it out to avoid the safety, the Wolves’ punter was knocked out of bounds at the 8-yard-line by Jordan Mendez, giving Evanston excellent field position; Roberts caught the corner on a sweep on the first play from scrimmage, and with Mendez knocking through the extra point, the Red Devils led 14-0.

Evanston’s defense continued to play aggressive, forcing a turnover on downs on the Wolves’ next possession. Green River’s defense began to find its footing, as well, with the Red Devils punting for the first time in the contest.

Midway through the second quarter, the Wolves moved the ball into Evanston territory for the first time in the game. Just as it seemed Green River was gaining a little momentum, Roberts stepped in front of a Maddux Hintz pass for an interception, and returned it to midfield.

The Red Devils took advantage of the turnover, with Roberts carrying Evanston into Wolves’ territory.

Facing a 1st-and-20 on the Wolves’ 27, Morrow was chased out of the pocket, and rolled right, looking for a receiver. Spotting Drew Barker — his favorite receiver of late — working to get open in the end zone, Morrow let it fly. Looking like a play the pair drew up together on the playground at recess, Morrow threw it to where only Barker could catch it, and with Mendez’s extra point, the Red Devils led 21-0.

Evanston opened the second half on offense, and continued to grind away on the ground, with Roberts at times seeming to drag almost the entire Green River defense along with him. After the two teams traded punts, the Red Devils scored for the first time in the second half, set up by a 47-yard run by Roberts down to the 1-yard-line. The senior captain scored a play later, and with Mendez’s extra point, Evanston led 28-0 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.

As the fourth quarter got underway, Evanston’s Cole Robinette — a heavy hitter on defense, and an excellent run blocker on offense — scored his first varsity touchdown, a bruising 8-yard run to push the lead to 34-0.

“It’s good to see a kid that’s worked so hard get into the end zone,” Moore said. “He’s had some injuries, and we had bigger hopes for him on offense this season, but we thought it would be smart to hold him back a bit offensively, because he is such a key component for us defensively. When we had that chance to give him the ball, coaches and players were all excited. They know what he’s going through, and how hard he’s worked to be able to be out there. He was all smiles, and so were we. It was really good to see.”

For Robinette, it was a moment he was happy he got to share with his teammates.

“Yeah, that was actually my first touchdown in my high school career,” he said. “I was a really fun moment – all of the guys and the coaches hyped me up, they all knew that it was my first. It was just a really special moment for me to share with my team.”

The Red Devils’ defense continued to make big plays, with Morrow picking off Hintz on Green River’s next possession, and returning the ball to the Wolves’ 29. Evanston scored one more touchdown on the night, set up by a nice run by Jesse Page that put the Red Devils on the 1-yard line. Brecken Rich took it in for the score, and Mendez’s point after made it 41-0.

“Jesse Page had some nice runs on the night, and Brecken Rich ran the ball well,” Moore said. “We kind of spread it out a little bit. I thought our offensive line did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. We kind of thought about that as a staff — get the younger running backs some touches under the lights, get that experience. It will definitely help us down the road.”

With a sizable lead — and under 10 minutes to play — Moore began to empty his bench, though in hindsight, that decision may have been premature. With the second-team defense squaring off against a Green River team determined to go down swinging, momentum shifted in favor of the home team. The Wolves rattled off 20 unanswered points before Evanston gathered their bearings, going out on their own terms. Mendez capped off the scoring with a 34-yard field goal, and with a final score of 44-20, the Red Devils punched their ticket to the 3A State Playoffs for the first time since 2018.

Roberts led the charge on offense, with 20 carries for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Jesse Page carried the ball five times for 39 yards, while Brecken Rich finished with eight carries for 32 yards and a score. Cole Robinette carried the ball twice for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Under center, Morrow completed seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Kai Barker caught four passes for 49 yards, while Drew Barker caught three for 44 yards and a touchdown.

“We didn’t throw the ball a whole lot, but when we did, it was effective, efficient,” Moore said. “The playbook was pretty much wide open, for sure.”

Defensively, Roberts and Morrow both had an interception, while Braxton Hanks was credited with a quarterback sack.

“I thought our starters on defense played really well,” Moore said. “Our pursuit was really good — you break down film, and you see all 11 guys pursuing to the ball really well. I thought we played physical. We need to cut down on the penalties a bit – we had 12 to their one, I think – and four or five of those were offsides. I’m OK with a few of those aggressive penalties, as a coach — after a couple, though, it’s a little too much. But overall, I thought we played pretty solid defense.”

The Red Devils will head to Riverton Friday for the opening round of the 3A State Playoffs. Moore said he’ll tell his team not to expect the same team they played back in September.

“We need to work on fundamentals, still – watching film from early September when we played them, they do different things now,” Moore explained. “They do a few more things with their defensive line, so we need to coach our kids up on that, make sure we’re sound up front. Offensively, they do all kinds of formations and different plays, so we need to be able to adjust, work on our pre-snap alignment, communicate and make sure we’re all on the same page.”