Civil war: Huskies host Devils Friday |

Civil war: Huskies host Devils Friday

Preston Utley/Vail DailyRifle defense swarms as the Eagle Valley offense attempts to gain some ground during Friday's loss to Rifle.

EAGLE COUNTY – For roughly two-and-a-half hours Friday night, a large portion of Eagle County will come together, but be fundamentally divided at the same time.The reason for such widespread public discord? No, it’s not the first presidential debate. That happens tonight.Friday night offers up something even more community-oriented and yet equally divisive: Battle Mountain vs. Eagle Valley in the two teams’ annual gridiron grudge match.The Huskies host the Devils for their homecoming game at Phelan Field with kickoff set for 7 p.m.Bring your seat cushions and your respective hometown pride.”From what we’re hearing on this end of the valley, it’s going to be a very large crowd,” second-year Huskies coach Pat Engle said. “Our kids will hopefully respond really well to just the whole hype and atmosphere of this game.”

Devils coach John Ramunno, in his 24th season at Eagle Valley, said he loves the intensity that goes into the rivalry between Eagle County’s two public high schools. As with other great rivalries, the No. 1 thing which fuels the emotion behind the game is proximity.To play in a heated contest with another comparable foe is one thing. But, to play in a rivalry game against your peers who live just up or down the road from you? Well, there’s nothing like it.”I know our kids are always excited to play Battle Mountain,” Ramunno said. “They’ve played them in middle school. They’ve played them in JV. They’ve played them in freshmen ball. Usually, the intensity level is really high during this game. It’s a game that the kids really want to win. Hopefully we’ll get their best performance.”Who is the favorite?Like the old adage goes, you throw out the records in a game like this. Nothing could more true this year as both teams come into the game in unfamiliar positions.

The Huskies, who finished 0-10 last year, have the better record through four games, having beat 1A South Park and nonconference 3A foe Summit for a mark of 2-2.The Devils, who lost in the second round of the 2A state playoffs last November to finish 8-3, are 0-4 this season.Ramunno’s team has been close to getting its first win of the season in one-touchdown losses to 2A Bayfield and Montezuma-Cortez, but has not been able to overcome costly turnovers all season.Engle isn’t putting much stock in thinking that his team should be favored to win, however, just because it has the better mark. The Devils won by blowout scores of, 37-7, and, 58-14, in the last two games and have won four straight over Battle Mountain.”Eagle Valley is a very good football team, a very good program,” he said. “We’re not fooled at all by the 0-4 record. They’ve lost to very good football teams and they should be 2-2 right now, if not a little better than that. “We are taking nothing for granted. We respect them tremendously and we expect them to come out here and play one heck of a football game against us. Mentally, we’re the underdog. We’ve not beaten them since 1997. They’ve got a heck of a thing going here.”Ramunno doesn’t buy into the record argument either. Or yardage totals or points-scored margins.

The difference in the game, he believes, will be which team makes the fewest mistakes and doesn’t cave under the surrounding pressure.”The No. 1 thing is mistakes,” he said. “You can’t make mistakes in a game like this. Who is going to make a silly penalty? Who is going to have a stupid turnover? I think ball control is important. Whoever gets that ball and keeps it out of the other team’s hands is going to win.”Keys to the gameThe turnover margin seems to the most important factor in determining the outcome of the game. Good luck trying to figure out which team will hold on to the ball better, though. Last week in its win over Summit, the Huskies put the ball on the turf eight times. The Devils didn’t match that output, but did cough up two costly turnovers in the 14-7 loss to Montezuma-Cortez that could have swung the game. Eagle Valley has also has had an eight-turnover game this year in a 60-6 loss to Moffat County Sept. 17.

Both coaches have been stressing ball security in practice this week, but that doesn’t mean much with nasty weather predicted in the Friday forecast and the weight of county bragging rights hanging over the heads of both teams. “I think the weather will probably have a factor in this game if it’s going to do what it says it’s going to do,” Engle said. “For us to turn over the ball eight times last week, that’s going to kill us in a game like this. What I think it’s going to be is turnovers and special teams. That’s how I handicap it. The team that makes the fewest turnovers and has the best night on special teams, I think they’re going to be the team that comes out on top.”Ramunno also echoed the turnover mantra, but said that just stressing turnovers is not the entire issue. He believes that turnovers result from a lack of focus, and is imploring his team to be totally tuned in on Friday once that first whistle blows. And hungry.He knows that the Huskies will be fired up, being that it is their Homecoming game and they will have the home-field advantage. If the Devils can match that intensity, he feels, they should be able to get their first win of the season.”I think our kids have had a couple of close chances at victory,” Ramunno said. “We have to really be hungry for a win. And just hungry to do our best. If our kids step in there and do what they’re capable of doing, we have a great chance of winning.”Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.comVail Daily

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