Down to the final four
Eagle Valley football enters the 2A state semifinal as one of five undefeated 11-man football teams in Colorado. Eaton is another. But the similarities between the two teams go beyond just perfect 11-0 records. Eaton is led by quarterback Chris Swain, who has amassed 2,600 yards this season on the ground and through the air, but has thrown eight interceptions.
Eagle Valley turns to senior Justin Wood, who has thrown just one interception this season, on a last-second Hail Mary before halftime against Roaring Fork. Wood went 0-for-3 last week in sloppy conditions against Pagosa Springs, but still engineered enough mud-filled drives to solidify the 10-0 win.
Eaton has a pair of running backs who have complemented Swain. Brandon Trujillo’s rushed for 1,080 yards, while fullback Travis Anderson’s racked up 476. Anderson led the Reds in their 24-14 come-from-behind win over Denver Christian with 126 yards and two scores.
But Eagle Valley has the answer. Two seniors, J.J. Alvis and Craig Jagger, lead the team in scoring and have breakaway speed.
So, with all the common attributes, one factor remains – defense. The Devils have held their two playoff opponents scoreless, while the Reds gave up a dozen points per game during the regular season.
“We’re very deep,” Devils linebacker coach Ron Beard said. “We’re fortunate that we’re comfortable with a lot of different guys in any situation. We feel like we can beat Eaton, especially from the linebacker perspective, if we keep doing what we’ve been doing all season, and that’s making tackles.”
Eaton’s Kyle Maulsby picked off three passes last week.
“I think we’ve been getting better every week,” said Reds head coach Bill Mondt, who has reached the 2A title game the past two seasons. “We’ve had a lot of close games. But it’s good to play some great teams.”
Eagle Valley’s defense has been plain spectacular. At one time in the season, the Devils’ potent offense took all the acclaim, running up big wins against teams like Battle Mountain, Hotchkiss and Gunnison. But the defense grabbed everyone’s attention when it held Roaring Fork – then undefeated – to two points, shutting out the multi-faceted Rams attack.
Included in the run was a shutout at Basalt and the two playoff games where they allowed all of zip, zero and none. Going into Saturday, the first-team defense hasn’t allowed a point in the last four games.
Still, the No.3 Devils are facing No. 1 Eaton. In the final four, it’s a whole different story.
“They’re big and have a big line and some fast backs,” Devils senior linebacker Matt Herr said. “We weren’t ranked at all at the beginning of the season. I mean, Cedaredge was ranked third. I don’t think we really care about rankings.”
Herr (28 tackles) is joined by senior Chris Lopez (49 tackles), juniors Tyson Ivie, Charles Faulhaber, Sean Bartlett (69 tackles) and Tim Rietz (48 tackles), along with sophomores Matt Garth and Ray Winsor.
Senior defensive-end Pat Kohl leads the team with 107 tackles.
For Eaton, its season started like Eagle Valley’s, with an average scoring-differential of nearly 30 points. Then came the Patriot League championship game against defending state-champion Burlington, a game the Reds took, 29-28.
“We’ve had a good run,” Mondt said. “Our biggest win came against Burlington. They beat us in the championship last season and we barely were able to beat them.”
Both teams have been watching tape all week. Mondt and the Reds know about the rarity of the double-wing offense run by Devils head coach John Ramunno. Ramunno knows about Swain and company. Both coaches know, at this stage in the tournament, the last team standing will have the fewest turnovers.
“Every week, we’ve had to prove ourselves to somebody,” Faulhaber said. “We’re going to stick to what we’ve done all season. We’re going to come at them.”
The confidence showed in practice. Thursday, the team focused on defense. Coach Randy Rohweder, running tackling drills, yelled out the name “Trujillo” before every player took his shot. In the locker room, the Devils have updated their playoff T-shirt. After the opening-round win over Wray, linebacker coach Derek Cordes hung up a shirt with the motto, “One down, three to go.”
Now, with two down and two to go, a new sign hangs on the bulletin board.
“Time to put a beatin’ on Eaton,” it reads.
NOTES: The road trip will be the second for the Devils in two weeks. Last week, in the rain and snow, Eagle Valley’s avid fans easily outnumbered Pagosa Spring’s … Eaton and Eagle Valley have one common opponent – Eaton. The Reds won 42-14, while the Devils won 35-0 … The high school is having an all-school assembly for the team this morning, before it departs to Eaton. Planned for Friday night: a steak dinner and a movie … In a “where are we” moment, Ramunno said the expected temperatures Saturday are expected to be in the 50s. “It’ll feel like summer,” he said … In the other semifinal, Burlington (9-2) hosts Holy Family (11-0).
Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.