Wolverines outlast Red Devils, 24-21

No. 8 senior Ridgen Wagstaff dives into the end zone to recapture the lead for the Evanston Red Devils on Friday night, Sept. 13, with 5:01 left to play against Riverton.The Wolverines rallied to score with under a minute remaining to earn a 24-21 road victory. (HERALD PHOTO/Mark Madia)

EVANSTON — Could a full moon coupled with Friday the 13th combine for a bad kind of vibe for the Evanston Red Devils football team? Probably not, but even the superstitious would likely believe those factors would affect both teams equally. In the case of the Evanston Red Devils and Riverton Wolverines, that was probably the case, though the Red Devils suffered from injuries to key starters in a heartbreaking 24-21 loss to the visiting Wolverines on Friday night at Kay Fackrell Stadium.

Like last week in Rawlins, Evanston lost the lead with less than a minute remaining in regulation. Starting quarterback Jagger Mitchell left the game midway through the first quarter and running back Payton Vernon had to be assisted off the field in the second half after running hard up the middle for the Red Devils for 51 yards, including a third-quarter touchdown.

“The close ones are starting to add up and get to us. It’s certainly no fun to lose in the last minute two weeks in a row,” Red Devil football head coach Jim Burton told the Herald.

Back-up quarterback, sophomore Jaxin Moore, was thrust into action with the injury to Mitchell. The young quarterback showed poise and made his mark, proving to be an effective runner and leading the Red Devils to the game’s first score on a 2-yard pass completion to Stetson Wiedrich with 10:13 left to go in the second quarter. The PAT by David Perez was true and Evanston led 7-0, on the team’s second possession.

Riverton answered on its second possession with a three-yard touchdown run by Caden Werbelow to cap a 65-yard scoring drive at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter, evening the score at seven apiece.

Back-to-back turnovers on the next two Red Devil possessions provided a short field for the opposition and the Wolverines took full advantage.

Following a big 31-yard run by Perez to put the ball near midfield, a fumble on a pitch from Moore to Jamin Barker gave the Wolverines the ball at the 50 yard line. Following penalties on both teams, Riverton quarterback Dillon Lange connected with Treyson Draper on a play covering 37 yards to spot the ball at the Red Devil 20. Werbelow did the rest on three runs with help from his huge offensive line, scoring his second touchdown from two yards out to give the Wolverines a 14-7 advantage with 2:01 remaining in the half. 

Michael Larson then picked off a Moore pass to the flat on Evanston’s second play during its fourth possession and the Wolverines were in business at the Red Devil 27 yard line. The Red Devil defense stiffened but facing a fourth and eight, the Wolverines called upon Tanner Johnson with 1:02 left before intermission and the kicker delivered with a 43-yard field goal. The Wolverines took a 17-7 lead into the halftime locker rooms.

“The guys came out fired up in the second half,” Burton opined. 

“The defense played better and the offense started to click. That was encouraging,” the head coach added.

The Red Devils held the Wolverines to a three-and-out to open the second half and Rigden Wagstaff followed up with a nice punt-return of 18 yards to set the Red Devils up near midfield. Moore picked up 25 of his team-leading 126 yards rushing to advance the ball to the Riverton 23 yard line, but the drive stalled from there. Evanston gave up on downs with 8:35 left in the third quarter and the Wolverines had the ball at the Riverton 22 yard line.

Riverton proved to have a number of offensive weapons and kept the Red Devil defense guessing with an effective mix of run and pass. Runs by Werbelow, Trayton Hyatt, Brock Hinkle, Blake Dale and Cade Campbell sustained the Wolverines’ drive to the Evanston 17 yard line. Red Devil senior linebacker Sean Knighton, who had a tremendous game on both sides of the ball, stopped Hinkle for no gain on a fourth-and-four attempt, which also resulted in a Riverton fumble recovered by Wagstaff at the Evanston 16, with 2:49 showing on the clock in quarter number three.

Moore then broke free on the first play out of the huddle to scamper 66 yards to Wolverine 18. A personal foul on Riverton advanced the ball to the Riverton nine yard line. Two plays later, Vernon bulled his way into the end zone, the PAT was good and the Red Devils had pulled to within three points, 17-14.

The teams exchanged three-and-outs with Barker’s punt pinning the Wolverines at Riverton four yard line. The Wolverines moved to the 36 but were forced to punt. Red Devil junior Derek Johnson blocked the punt and senior Cade Francom recovered and advanced the ball to the Wolverine 16, setting up Evanston’s next score with 7:42 left in the game.

Vernon sustained his injury on the next play but runs by Perez and Moore moved the ball to the Riverton nine yard line. Evanston ran an option to the left, with Moore pitching to Wagstaff, who dived into the end zone as Evanston recaptured the lead, 21-17, with 5:01 left to play.

Lange returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards with Blake Ross making a touchdown-saving tackle for Evanston. The Wolverines committed their second turnover on a Werbelow fumble, giving Evanston possession at the Red Devil 18 with 4:04 remaining. The Red Devils picked up a crucial first down and one more would have sealed the victory but the Red Devils came up a yard shy and opted to punt.

Beginning from their own 26, with 1:59 showing on the clock, the Wolverines went to work. Draper was the recipient of a 29-yard pass to the Evanston 45. Both teams were subsequently penalized, but Draper caught another pass to the Red Devil 24. Facing a fourth-and-six with 53 seconds remaining, Lange again found Draper and delivered a perfect strike for the go-ahead score.

“That was a perfect ball,” Burton said of the Wolverines’ winning score. 

“We had a guy in front of him and a guy in back. Just a great throw and a great catch. It was unreal how that went down,” the coach elaborated. 

Burton had praise for the Wolverines’ late-game heroics. 

“Kudos to them. They put together a good two-minute offense, marched down the field, put themselves in position and scored.”

Evanston ended with 258 rushing yards and Moore was 2-8 through the air for 18 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. 

Knighton was named the overall player of the game, with offensive honors going to Moore. The defensive player of the game was senior Gabe Morris, with the special team nod given to Perez.

The week prior, senior Bryson Davis was named overall player of the game, with Mitchell (offensive), Moore (defensive) and Francom (special teams) receiving recognition against Rawlins.

Evanston hosts the 2-1 Lander Tigers for the EHS Homecoming game on Friday, Sept. 20.

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