Devils ready for the second round
GYPSUM – Eagle Valley football coach John Ramunno knows that there’s no greater feeling than being a Devil at Hot Stuff Stadium.He loves it so much, in fact, that he asked Steamboat Springs coach Aaron Finch if he and his team wouldn’t mind coming down to Gypsum for Saturday’s state quarterfinal game.”I called him up and told him the conditions are great down here,” Ramunno said.Earlier this year, the Devils beat the Sailors in Steamboat, 16-13, on a water-logged field. On Saturday, the game may be once again played in sloppy conditions.”Our field doesn’t have great drainage,” said Finch, who enjoyed joking with Ramunno about the field conditions earlier this week. “We like a fast track just as much as Eagle Valley does. I swear, I’m not the one making the snow.”More than a foot of snow has already fallen in Steamboat Springs, but no matter what the conditions are come game time, Ramunno isn’t too concerned.”We need to pick up right where we left off last game,” Ramunno said. “This time, we’ll be bringing up extra balls, towels and a heater we got from the Eagle Fire Department.”Ramunno is taking these precautions in hopes of cutting down on what nearly cost Eagle Valley the game last time – turnovers.”We had seven fumbles and lost four of them,” Ramunno said. “To recover the fumbles, you are diving in the mud, so that’s a dead play. We do that three times, and that’s a series. Then, you lose the ball four times, so that’s five chances, which is pretty much an entire half.”Even on a soggy field, Ramunno is confident in his double wing offense.”I like Chris Harvey in that situation and a tight stack with Michael Medsker or Cody Comerford running ahead,” Ramunno said. “We just have to beat Steamboat Springs’ stunts.”Harvey says the Devils are ready to play a full four quarters this time around.”I can’t believe we won the last game we played Steamboat with how many turnovers we had,” said Eagle Valley’s Chris Harvey. “But we stuck our hearts in that game.”Since that game, both teams have gone undefeated and picked up momentum.
MatchupEagle Valley knows just what kind of defense Steamboat Springs runs. The only problem is predicting where the Sailors’ defenders will go.”They will be stunting six or seven guys on every play,” Ramunno said. “We are trying to have Michael Medsker read their defense, and hopefully that will put us ahead of the stunt.”Thomas Allen and Nigel Hammond often stunt and are in on most tackles. One player who isn’t likely to stunt, however, is linebacker Westin Coffer.”They stunt their other backers, and Coffer sits and cleans up,” Ramunno said. “We’ve gotta get on him and stay on him.”And Medsker may have to look out for Steamboat Springs’ Lane Shipley, who has six sacks this year. Finch hopes to do what many teams haven’t been able to and prevent Eagle Valley from breaking big plays.”They’ll get three, four, then five yards but then break a play for 80 yards,” Finch said. “Ramunno does a great job with the double wing, and they’ve got great team speed.”The Devils hope to pick up an early touchdown on the Sailors, who have outscored opponents 102-32 in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Sailors have been outscored 39-48, while the Devils have dominated opponents, 78-3.”I want to score first so we can get our tempo up,” said the Devils’ Tim Peters.Comerford know what the Devils need to do in order to get a touchdown.”We have to sustain blocks and hold onto the football,” Comerford said.Defense
The Sailors may run the ball most of the time, but their passing game eluded the Devils on several plays last time, including a touchdown. “Defensively, we can’t give up the big play,” said Comerford. “They like to air it out, especially on first down.”Quarterback Tanner Stillwell’s top target is Jack Serhant. The Sailors line up three receivers on one side in a bunch formation, with Serhant on the opposite side.In Steamboat Springs’ 44-10 victory over Harrison last week, Stillwell went out with an injury that had him using crutches.”He’s mobile and scored a touchdown against us before, so he may not be able to run as much,” Ramunno said. “If they put in their backup quarterback, he’s their top receiver, so that can change things.”Stillwell practiced for the first time since last Saturday’s game on Thursday, and Finch says Stilwell will be a game-time decision.On the ground, Jay Hanley and Walker Hammond have rotated carrying the load this year between their injuries. Stillwell has also called his own number for over 200 yards. No matter who is running, the Sailors hope to keep the Devils on their toes.”With both of our running backs healthy, things are a little less predictable,” Finch said.The Sailors also have another element that could throw the Devils off.”They like to use a lot of motion,” Ramunno said. “Almost 85 percent of the time, where the motion goes, the play goes, but that might be something they are trying to set us up with.”On most running plays, one of the running backs will be alone in the backfield to take a toss. The Steamboat Springs offensive line often stretch blocks defensive lineman and linebackers as the running backs cut outside.Slope vs. slopeOf the eight remaining teams in the playoffs, four are from the Western Slope. With the Devils and Sailors squaring off, at least one Slope team is guaranteed to make the semifinals.
“As John and I said to each other, it’s sad that two teams have to play each other given that we got all four through to the quarterfinals,” Finch said. “Obviously our league was very strong this year.”Finch thinks both teams match up well, which should make for a tight game.”Last game we didn’t give up any big plays, and if we can repeat what we did, we’ll make a game out of it,” Finch said.Ramunno thinks his team will have to key in on several things to emerge with the win.”When we have the ball, we have to do something with it. Mentally, our kids have to play smart and eliminate the errors,” Ramunno said. “Last time we had a pass interference penalty against them that set up one of their touchdowns.”HomecomingWhile the Devils will be on the road for the game, Ramunno will be in familiar territory. Ramunno grew up in Steamboat, where his father coached football and wrestling.”I told John anytime he wants to come up for Homecoming, he can come,” Finch said. “He just has to leave behind all of his fast players.”Ramunno has kept a vigilant eye on the Steamboat field via his mother who still lives in Steamboat.”She e-mailed me telling me they plowed the snow off the field Wednesday and again Thursday,” Ramunno said.Field conditions aside, the Devils know they have a tough opponent at hand.”They kind of have the advantage because they are a bit of the underdogs,” Comerford said. “But we don’t want to stop now.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado