GYPSUM — The scoreboard wasn’t working during Saturday afternoon’s Soroco-Vail Christian 8-man football game in Gypsum, but you didn’t need to own a stopwatch to figure out who was winning time of possession.
The visiting Rams used a relentless rushing attack to hold off the gritty Saints, 14-12, at Hot Stuff Stadium at Eagle Valley High School. Soroco ran 78 plays to Vail Christian’s 40 — including an astounding 45-12 margin during the first half alone. And the Rams’ ground attack proved decisive with two third-quarter touchdowns.
“We got the size, so we knew we could keep grounding and pounding and waste the clock,” Rams senior quarterback Matt Regan said.
In postgame interviews, Soroco coach David Bruner blamed himself for the play calling, saying he didn’t call enough passes. Whether he was taking one for the team in that regard is up for debate. The Rams had difficulty completing passes, while its offensive line and running game were simply pushing the Saints off the line of scrimmage.
What was costly were penalties and turnovers in the red zone, especially in the first half for Soroco.
“We were inside the 10 yard line three times and we’d get a penalty and it killed those drives,” Bruner said. “That puts you in a little harder situation with play calls. I just told them when we get inside the red zone, we have to score. We were able to do that. Still, we were too one-dimensional in our play calling. Still, we found a way to win.”
Do credit Vail Christian’s defense. Badly out-numbered, the Saints made two huge stops on fourth down in the red zone and Mike Lange also had a big pick, ending another Rams drive, during the first half.
The Saints (2-1 overall and 0-1 in the Central League) were playing their first game in three weeks. Their nonconference tilt two weeks ago against Longmont Christian was canceled due to Front Range flooding and this past week’s conference opener turned into a bye when South Park dropped football.
While Vail Christian coach Tim Pierson wouldn’t use that as an excuse, the Saints were clearly cramping and losing players like flies at different points in the game.
“We challenged them before the game,” the coach said. “‘You can control what you can control, and that’s effort.’ That’s taking one play and doing it to the best of their ability. I was proud with the effort today, especially when kids started getting dinged up at the beginning of the game, and we’re putting in kids in different positions and rotating away from things we had worked on all week in practice. We were misaligned a bunch, but the kids had some great effort there. I’m proud with what they left on the field.”
The Saints actually scored on their first play of the game, a 76-yard Cole Caynoski burst, and made that stick through halftime. Soroco (5-0, 2-0) needed just three plays to start the second half finally to find the end zone. Regan called his own number from 5 yards out.
The Rams took the lead on 12-play drive, using running back Ian Palyo essentially as a wrecking ball through the Saints’ understandably-tired defense. While Palyo did most of the work, Ragan scampered for 15 yards and the go-ahead score for a 14-6 advantage.
Vail Christian could get nothing going on the ground, so quarterback Branden Currey took to the air with a 66-yard bomb to Clayton Davis at the end of the third quarter. The Saints did not convert the 2-pointer, which would be critical.
Soroco did a nice job of grinding the ball in the fourth quarter, but Vail Christian did a valiant job of stopping two Rams’ drives. The Saints got the ball with about a minute or so left in regulation — official time was kept on the field. Currey did get off a 15-yard run, moving the Saints to the Rams’ 43 for a last-ditch shot at a score.
Soroco’s defense stood its ground magnificently in crunch time as Carl Rossi and Ryan Jeep recorded sacks, ending the game.
“The last two plays, I was really pleased with the rush we got on the quarterback,” Bruner said. “That was something where they really did their job.”
Rangely is next for both team. The Saints are at the Panthers Friday night, while Rangely comes to Soroco after its South Park bye.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.