Perfect 10: Devils go to quarters
GYPSUM – Eagle Valley football coach John Ramunno needs to redecorate his office.Since he started coaching in Gypsum in 1980, Ramunno has had four teams which have won 10 games or more in a season. Their pictures are on his wall.Make way for the 2005 Devils who got their 10th win Saturday at Hot Stuff by pounding Cherokee Trail, 31-14, in Round 1 of the 3A state playoffs.”I have an empty frame in my office,” Ramunno said. “I’m going to have to put those guys up. This is a great group of kids.”And those kids did something Saturday that no other Eagle Valley football squad has done – win 10 games at the 3A level. The school’s previous 10-win teams were at 1A and 2A.Or as Devils lineman Brendan Best said, “It’s great to be a Devil.”Eagle Valley dominated all facets of play against the Cougars who were making their first state-playoff appearance. The Devils won out in the trenches. Their stable of running backs ran wild. Quarterback Mike Medsker made the passes when needed. The defense was ferocious, making many a clutch play and special teams also shone brightly.”Things are real positive at Cherokee Trail football. We’re just starting out. We got a taste of playoff football,” Cougars coach Monte Thelen said. “We certainly played a quality football team. We’re just trying to soak in this atmosphere. Hopefully, it will motivate us to work hard to come back.”Early signsEagle Valley’s Nolan Schwan ended Cherokee’s first possession with a sack of quarterback C.J. Williams, a sign the Devils’ defense was swarming. The Eagle Valley offense obliged with a nine-play, 71-yard drive for the first score of the game.All the familiar faces were in on the march, all on the ground – Medsker, Sean Matheson, Kenny Slaughter, Cody Comerford and Chris Harvey. “We have so many good kids there,” Ramunno said. “You can run Chris Harvey up the middle. Cody will give you that good cut and make kids miss. You’ve got the speed of Sean and then Kenny Slaughter gives you that little slice, too. We’re so lucky to have all that talent.”Eagle Valley is equally lucky to have an offensive line that shoves opposing defenses around like rag dolls. The Devils racked up 278 yards on the ground and pretty much ate up the clock, running 66 plays to Cherokee’s 36.
“Basically, it was just what we were working on in practice,” Best said. “Use our speed and just come off the ball and hit them hard. We don’t really worry about how big they are. We know we can push them.”Comerford ran behind the big boys for Eagle Valley’s first touchdown with 4:41 left in the first period, and Matheson ran in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.On the Cougars’ next possession, Williams found Brady Martin for 16 yards, but the Devils’ Mason Ewing came away with a fumble recovery, one of two takeaways on the day for Eagle Valley.Mansfield to the rescueCherokee’s Josh Corbin, who finished the day with a game-high 163 yards on 21 carries, ripped off a 69-yarder, putting the Cougars deep in Devils’ territory. Eagle Valley’s defense stood tall and Cherokee went for the 42-yard field goal.Enter sophomore Kevin Mansfield. He careened in and blocked the attempt.”Well, I just lined up on the end just like I do at practice and just ran as hard as I can,” the sophomore said. “I just jumped up, saw him kick it and it hit me. It was just excellent. There’s nothing better.”Matheson may argue with that. No. 7 rolled 25 yards into the end zone 10 plays later for a 15-0 lead. He led the Devils with 138 yards on 21 rushes. Medsker had 55 yards on 11 carries. Harvey bulled his way to 37 yards on nine carries. Comerford ran the ball six times for 31 yards.Crunch and crackEagle Valley’s defense asserted itself on Cherokee’s last two significant possessions of the first half. Linebacker Kylan Kottenstette crushed Corbin twice, the second time with the help of Ewing. Kottenstette had 11 tackles while fellow linebacker Maurice Mitchell was hitting everything in white with 15 tackles. When Harvey wasn’t running, he was chasing down Cougars to the tune of eight tackles. “We were just hungry that first half and we came out pretty hard, hitting hard,” Schwan said.Medsker’s first interception since Week 2 ended an Eagle Valley drive, but the defense gave the ball right back after stuffing the Cougars again. This time, it was a big sack from Louis Romersheuser.
During that possession, Ramunno wisely burned two timeouts to save some clock for his offense. As it turned out he could have saved one of those stoppages because Medsker just needed one play – a 39-yard strike to Comerford – to make it 22-0 at the half.”He’s throwing the ball really well for us,” Ramunno said. “Mike’s making some good decisions. I think that kind of put the icing on the cake and got us ready to go for next week.”The Devils’ D continued to smash away at Cherokee in the second half. Harvey and Kottenstette had monster hits for losses during the Cougars’ first possession of the third quarter. That drive ended when Mitchell stuffed Corbin on fourth-and-one at the Devils’ 24.Later in the period, Schwan dumped Williams again on third down. On the next play, an errant snap resulted in a safety for Eagle Valley.”They pressured our quarterback certainly,” Thelen said. “They gave us some different looks in the secondary. But we felt like we ran the ball effectively most of the day. Certainly, we had some breakdowns and that cost us. That’s what happens when you play good teams like Eagle Valley.”Schwan songCherokee finally got on the board with 7:49 left in the game when Williams found Martin in the end zone. Eagle Valley replied in kind with an 80-yard drive.Medsker showed that he could throw in the clutch. He twice hooked up with tight end Tim Peters for gains of 18 and 22 yards. The drive culminated with Medsker to Schwan for the latter’s first touchdown.”It felt nice,” Schwan said. “My teammates have been working hard to try to get me to the end zone and it finally happened today.”Martin scored Cherokee’s final touchdown late on a 70-yard pass from Cougars quarterback Gabe Walsh.At Steamboat?With the win, the Devils (10-1) advance to the quarters against Steamboat up in Routt County. Yes, despite the fact that Eagle Valley has already gone up there and beat its conference foe, 16-13, and won the conference title, the Sailors will be hosting the Devils again. In its infinite wisdom, CHSAA rules state that if a team has a home game in Round 1 and its quarterfinal opponent was on the road, the latter team hosts in the Elite Eight. CHSAA does this in the interest of evening up traveling costs.
The good news is that Steamboat’s sprinkler system has been shut down for the season, so there will be no man-made moisture on the field.In that 16-13 win last month, Eagle Valley put the ball on the ground seven times, losing it on four occasions. That having been said, limiting turnovers will doubtless be the talk in Gypsum this week.”The thing we talked about is that we’ve got to clean up the mistakes. We can’t go up there and have what happened last time,” Ramunno said. “We’ve got to be dialed in in order to make it to the semis.””I think we’ll automatically reduce our turnovers because were hunting for not making turnovers,” Best said. “We want the satisfaction to say that all those turnovers were worthless. That isn’t how we play. We want to show them how it’s done.”Around 3AIt was a whacky weekend in Round 1. Conventional wisdom had the 3A final being a showdown between Tri-Valley rivals Northridge and Niwot. Instead, Rifle knocked off Northridge and Alamosa dumped Niwot. So much for that theory. Maybe conventional wisdom should have taken a page from history. The 3A Slope has produced the last two state champs and all four of its teams advanced into the quarters this year. Palisade smacked Centaurus, 35-13. Steamboat upset Harrison, 44-14, and Rifle pulled the shocker. There are three Slope teams in the bottom of the bracket. In addition to Eagle Valley at Steamboat, Rifle faces Elizabeth, 42-21 winners over Silver Creek. That should be an interesting matchup as Elizabeth head coach Chris Cline used to be Rifle’s defensive coordinator. On the top of the bracket, there a whopper of a quarterfinal as Florence, which crushed Berthoud, 42-0, faces Palisade. It’s Alamosa and Conifer in the fourth quarterfinal. Conceivably, Eagle Valley could play Steamboat in the quarters, Rifle in the semis and Palisade in the finals.And if that happened, Ramunno would probably put up another picture in his office.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado