GYPSUM — In the first half of Eagle Valley football’s opener Friday night against Cedaredge, there might of been some Devils faithful thinking, “Uh-oh, this could be a long year.”
By the end of the game, most of the crowd was likely thinking, “This is THE year.”
The truth likely lies somewhere in between, but there’s no denying that Eagle Valley mounted one heck of a comeback, rallying from a 21-6 halftime deficit to beat the visiting Bruins, 42-28.
“I think we’re looking at replacing a lot of starters from last year, and you’re going to experience little bumps along the way,” Devils coach John Ramunno said.
Eagle Valley (1-0) looked a lot like a team with a lot of people in new places in that first half. Every punt was an adventure on special teams and a botched kick led to the first of three touchdown strikes from Cedaredge quarterback Trent Walker in the fist half alone. He finished the night with four TDs.
Meanwhile, Eagle Valley’s offense had a superb drive going early in the second quarter, only to mishandle an exchange on the shadow of the goal line for a fumble.
When the Devils finally found the end zone late in the half on a nice hookup from Orin Reichardt to Sonam Lama, followed by a scoring dash from Riley Rowles, the Bruins marched down the field again for a score.
Down 21-6 at the break, the Devils reshuffled on defense and had an offensive pep talk.
“We changed up our defense a little bit,” said Rowles, who, like many Devils, plays on both sides of the ball. “They weren’t running up the middle, so we didn’t need to be there. We talked about what plays were working and what plays weren’t. We came out with a vengeance.”
The key was containing the Bruins’ passing game, and Eagle Valley’s defense ended Cedaredge’s first three possessions of the second half with turnovers.
The Devils’ Joe Gardea jumped on Cedaredge’s first pass of the second half — it was the Bruins’ second snap of the third quarter, putting Eagle Valley in business. And from there, Eagle Valley’s offensive line took over the game.
Ramunno called senior lineman Joe Felix “an animal,” a high compliment, and had praise for the entire unit.
“It was just an all-around effort from our line,” Felix said. “One heartbeat.”
“One heartbeat” was the motto for last year’s team which went 8-4 and broke the program’s seven-year drought of postseason play. And when the Devils got the ball after Gardea’s pick, Eagle Valley’s offense looked much like last year’s potent version. Rowles, Luis Chavez and Victor Avila all marched the ball down the field with Rowles punching it in from 4 yards. He also made the conversion, closing the Bruins lead to 21-14.
Cody Byrnes got the interception on Cedaredge’s next possession. Eagle Valley converted on a third-and-8, as well as a fourth-and-4. Rowles plunged in and got the 2-pointer, as the Devils took the lead at 22-21.
Rowles ended the night with 209 yards and four scores. After the game, he gave it up to the O-line.
“I’m proud of them,” the junior said. “They make holes. Can’t do it without them.”
Although there would still be some tense moments, the back-breaker came on the Bruins’ next possession. Cedaredge ran a screen on third-and-10 from the Eagle Valley 36. The Devils had it covered. Even better, the Bruins fumbled and Jay Neal was there to scoop it up and go 64 yards to the house.
“I was surprised when I saw it,” Neal said. “But we practice that. We were ready for that. I think we were ready for events like that to happen. It’s all about making the plays happen.”
Neal joked that he was thinking, “Don’t fall down.” No worries, Jay.
Eagle Valley’s defense forced a three-and-out very nicely, giving the ball to its offense, which, by this time, was cranking on high. For a change of pace, Reichardt called his own number for the score and a 35-21 lead.
The Bruins did mount one drive late for a touchdown, but Eagle Valley’s offense answered and dutifully ran out the clock.
“That’s a good way to start the season because you work so hard during the offseason and the camps,” Ramunno said. “It makes the kids think it was all worth it.”
Friday night’s game began at 8:30 p.m. because there was a mud slide on Interstate 70. Cedaredge’s bus got snarled in traffic and its arrival was delayed.
Eagle Valley hopes Colorado 131 will be clear next week when it heads to Steamboat Springs for its league opener.
D’Evelyn beats Huskies
Battle Mountain football had a rough start to the season with a 50-0 loss to D’Evelyn on Friday night at Trailblazer Stadium in Lakewood.
“Our team improved throughout the game,” Huskies coach Steve Greve said. “We had a lot of compliments from coaches about how they improved. We’re looking forward to Summit next week.”
Battle Mountain hosts the Tigers on Friday night at 7 in Edwards.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.