GYPSUM - Eagle Valley football wasn't ready for the end.
"You just don't plan your ending," Devils coach John Ramunno said. "I didn't have my postgame speech ready. I was saving it. I usually like to go through each senior. I'll go inside now to tell them, just thank them for the season. They're just darn good kids."
Eagle Valley's turnaround season - 1-8 in 2011 to 8-4 this year - ended in a defensive second-round playoff slugfest Saturday at Hot Stuff Stadium in Gypsum as visiting Conifer came away with a 16-10 win.
Four turnovers were the cause for Eagle Valley's demise. The most critical miscue came on the Devils' first offensive play of the second half. Cole Nielsen, who was running gamely on a bum ankle, was hit by Conifer's A.J. Eleniewski. The ball squirted out and right into the ready arms of Lobos' defensive back Seth Trujillo. The senior rolled 23 yards into the end zone, giving his team a 14-3 lead at the time.
"I just saw him running outside, and we were chasing him, trying to lay a hit on him," Trujillo said. "I just saw the ball pop out and saw it rolling on the ground. So I just picked the ball up and ran with it. It's indescribable. To have it happen in this game is just amazing."
"That defense has been there all year long," Conifer head coach Larry Fitzmaurice said. "Coach (Eric) Kragel, my defensive coordinator, does a heck of a job with them. All year, they've been playing well, other than one or two games. Today, they played when the offense probably didn't have the best day."
This was a defensive duel from the start. Eagle Valley struggled with early. Its last three possessions for the first half started on its 1-, 1- and 3-yard lines. Nonetheless, the Devils moved the ball on the first of those three possessions from the shadows of their goal posts on a 23-play drive.
Rick Ramunno, Jesus Garcia and Nielsen pounded away. Quarterback Jordon Hudspeth completed three passes on the drive for 48 yards as well - to Aryen Hart, Nielsen and Sam Boyd. The Devils also converted on two fourth downs as Cody Thurston and Nielsen moved the sticks.
This was pretty impressive, considering Nielsen understandably didn't have his explosive first step, not to mention that both Jay Dostal and Zeke Sandoval were both out with injuries.
The drive stalled on the Lobos' 5 and Eagle Valley's Travis Edgar split the uprights for a 3-0 lead.
Conifer capitalized on a Hudspeth interception late in the second quarter. The Lobos moved the ball 45 yards, capped by a 6-yard rumble by Matthew McClintock. The Devils blocked the extra point, and the two teams went into the break with Conifer leading, 6-3.
Conifer added to that lead with Trujillo's fumble recovery and a safety when Eagle Valley had a bad snap in its end zone. Down 16-3, the Devils defense made its stand. Roberto Cortez launched a perfect 67-yard punt, that pinned the Lobos on their 1 with 8:49 left in the game.
The Lobos went three-and-out, and Eagle Valley took over on its 44-yard line. Using multiple backs, Sam Boyd started the drive with a 9-yard run. The Devils converted another fourth down, this time on defensive holding. Victor Avilla brought the Devils to the doorstep with a 27-yard scamper. Ramunno punched it in from there, closing the game to 16-10 with 5:38 left.
Eagle Valley's defense produced another three-and-out. The Devils started on their 36 with 2:56 remaining, but their fourth turnover of the day, an interception by Conifer'sClay Wegenhals, snuffed out dreams of a dramatic comeback.
"I'm so proud of them," John Ramunno said. "These seniors gave me everything they had. They were here five nights a week during the summer. We went to football camp. They were dedicated. They trained. That's all you can ask from kids. To go from eight losses one year, and flip it over to eight wins, that's huge."
Conifer takes on Silver Creek next week in the semifinals while Rifle plays Pueblo East.