Eagle Valley’s going to the playoffs.
That sort of became the refrain in 2012-13. After a seven-year absence — and a recent slump virtually unheard of in the program — Eagle Valley football returned to the state playoffs. Devils boys basketball didn’t have much of a layoff. The gents made it back-to-back postseason appearances. Eagle Valley boys lacrosse made it a seasonal hat trick with its first postseason appearance in the spring. Technically, Devils track and field doesn’t do the playoffs. It’s really the state meet, but you get the point.
And wrestling’s Andy Armstrong had a pretty big winter.
And, where else can you’re your athletic director do multiple flips across the football field as a part of the Harlem Shake? Mad props to Tammi Payne, and I’m waiting for it, Ryan McCay (Battle Mountain), Tim Pierson (Vail Christian) and Ted O’Reilly (Vail Mountain).
We’ll probably keep waiting, but that’s not important right now.
Andy’s the champ
The Devils’ Andy Armstrong is Eagle County’s best senior athlete. The undefeated 4A wrestling champ put up a 40-0 season. He was All-State in football while anchoring both the offensive and defensive lines.
He’s so good, we’re giving him his own story on the front page of Saturday’s Senior Scrapbook.
And now for an observation. Football is two different things at Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain. In Edwards, Eagle Valley’s archrival calls football soccer, and the Huskies are darn good at it. (Funny moment: As Eagle Valley basketball was sweeping Battle Mountain this winter, Devils fans chanted, “Just like football.” Huskies soccer goalie Christian Espinoza yelled back, “We went 20-0 in football.”)
In Gypsum, football is football, the gridiron, a sport meant to be played well and deep into November. Except that it hadn’t happened recently. From 2009-2011, the Devils went 1-9, 2-7 and 1-8. Perhaps most galling was a three-game losing streak to Battle Mountain, including a 54-0 pasting in 2011.
Eagle Valley opened the season with a 32-6 win at Cedaredge. This was notable for two reasons. First, there was a one-hour lightning delay, something that coach John Ramunno has never seen in his 30-plus years of coaching. And, as it turned out, Cedaredge was pretty good. That was the Bruins’ only loss of the season. They won the 1A state title.
Though we didn’t know it as the time, the Devils were turning things around. They had a huge senior class leading the team, and they had finally done the work in the offseason. What really helped was senior on both lines. Cole Nielsen’s a good running back, but he can’t do anything without the big boys blocking.
Speaking of Nielsen, he turned into a fun runner to watch. I swear, over and over, that kid was down and you thought the play was over, only to see Nielsen keep going. It wasn’t just me. Ramunno told me he’d think Cole was down, start to call the next play and then look up and see Nielsen still running.
With the o-line showing beef, the Devils offense was back. I know people don’t like the double-wing. They’re wrong. It’s a beautiful offense.
Turning point No. 1 came between a 25-21 loss at Delta and a 68-14 thrashing of Arvada. The Devils led Delta, 21-6, and then quarterback Mitch Whiteside picked Eagle Valley apart in the second half. (Yes, a game at Delta is always weird. Speaking of which, the Devils won turnovers, 4-0, and lost the game. How does that happen? Really?)
Eagle Valley’s defense finally got after the quarterback. The Devils’ pass rush knocked Arvada’s quarterback out of the game, and, one week later, beat the stuffing out of Bubba Ivers in a 48-14 win over Moffat County.
Turning point No. 2 was a 42-28 win at Glenwood Springs, the first over the Demons since 2005. Ramunno, who has a memory like an elephant, knew the exact year when I asked him “When was the last time you beat Glenwood, coach?” He knew as he was standing in the middle of the Glenwood Springs City Market as his players were getting postgame food. (True story.)
Speaking of that memory, that 54-0 loss to Battle Mountain stuck with the Devils for 365 days. Just like the Huskies did when the game was in Gypsum in 2011, the Eagle Valley bus arrived 25 minutes before the game in Edwards, and the Devils got off in full pads and helmets.
The final? Eagle Valley 62, Battle Mountain 0.
Turning point No. 3 was what we will call, “The Alex Garbage.” It’s painful, but it was part of the journey. Some crackpot woman contacted Eagle Valley football about a kid supposedly-dying of leukemia. Alex apparently was following the Eagle Valley football team, and the Devils adopted him and played for him.
For Senior Night, the Devils wore orange socks — orange being the color for leukemia awareness — against Palisade. It turned out the entire thing was a hoax of this mentally-disturbed woman.
Having been punched in the gut for its kindness, Eagle Valley football could have packed in the tent after lopsided losses to Palisade and Rifle. Instead, the Devils played their best football of the season in the playoffs, knocking off No. 3 Frederick, 33-8 in a whiteout.
Conifer ended the Devils season in Gypsum during the round of eight, but it was a tremendous turnaround for Eagle Valley football.
So, what to do for an encore after Eagle Valley boys basketball won its first 4A Slope title in 2011-12?
First, play Glenwood Springs 47 times. (OK, Eagle Valley only played the Demons four times, but you get my point.)
The reality was that despite some losses to graduation, Eagle Valley still had a very good basketball team. The Devils came out of the blocks with a 7-1 start before stumbling before the break at Delta. That loss, in retrospect, wasn’t bad as parity was the order of the year in the league.
Seriously, I still don’t know how Summit beat Delta. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
In less mystifying events, Eagle Valley swept the Huskies. That’s five in a row for the guys. The Devils also beat Steamboat twice, including once on an Aryen Hart bank shot, that he doubtless called.
Speaking of Hart, he went down with a kidney issue, whose medical name I was able to spell in February, but can’t anymore. (He can’t either.) And while all were worried about young master Hart at the time, the Devils rallied for one of their best wins of the season, a 63-62 win over Delta. (Did I mention that I have no idea how the Panthers lost to Summit?)
Seriously, that was one of my favorite games of the year. (No. 1, Game 4 of the World Series; No. 2, Huskies soccer beats Evergreen. Massive tie at three with Devils-Delta hoops, Vail Christian hoops over Fleming and Devils football beating Glenwood.) The reason is that Eagle Valley boys basketball was cursed and blessed simultaneously with potential. There were times that Eagle Valley hoops left me scratching my head. And there were times when I left the gym, thinking, “Wow.” This was the latter.
Everyone got into the act. Tim Harris started in place of Hart. Travis Edgar went nuts in a good way, as did fellow tower, Ryan Werner. Sam Lounsberry was Sam Lounsberry. Several players like Sam Boyd came off the bench for key moments. Good stuff.
Under a seeding system that confused the heck out of everyone, the Devils got a home playoff game and downed Erie, 45-36, before giving top-ranked D’Evelyn all it could handle in a second-round loss.
In other news
Eagle Valley boys lacrosse made the playoffs. And give lax coach Ted Boddy some credit for this. He called it. I thought he was insane when he told me that Eagle Valley’s final game had “playoff implications.” Well, the Devils beat Durango and, indeed, did snag the final spot. Slowly, but surely, the Devils are building a program. … Track and field had a good season, as has been documented in the sports section recently. … And mark it now: Eagle Valley girls basketball will be really good next year if it works during the offseason. Just saying …