Physical defense keys Saints rout
Vail, CO Colorado
GYPSUM, Colorado – Kieran Hurtt is a Renaissance man. The Vail Christian junior can do it all on the football field.
On Friday night, Hurtt caught a 32-yard touchdown pass, picked off two Maranatha Christian throws and recorded so many tackles, fans thought they were hearing an echo.
Behind Hurtt’s stellar performance, Vail Christian routed Maranatha Christian 36-12 at Hot Stuff Stadium in Gypsum.
“This (win) is huge,” Hurtt said. “These guys are usually our toughest opponents. I don’t want to say it’s downhill from here, but this is definitely a good hump we got over.”
The Saints’ defense played inspired football all night. After the Crusaders took a 6-0 first quarter lead thanks to a short field, Vail Christian didn’t allow another point until garbage time in the fourth quarter.
Maranatha Christian rushed for only 186 yards on 58 tries in the game – just 3.2 yards per carry. Vail Christian was even better against the pass. Three different Crusader quarterbacks combined to go 3-for-12 for four yards and two interceptions. The Saints also forced three turnover-on-downs, and recovered a fumble in the win.
“It was just great plays from great players working together,” Hurtt said.
With the Vail Christian defense playing lights out, the offense started to find its rhythm in the second half. On their first possession after the break, the Saints went 74 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Quarterback Larry Cavanaugh got the drive going with a 30-yard scramble down to the Crusader 40-yard line.
A.J. Burgess and Will Parker continued to chew up yards on the ground. On the next play after Cavanaugh’s run, Burgess broke through the right side of the line for another 24 yards. Parker sprinted for 13 more three plays later. Cavanaugh capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Ian Ryan in the back of the end zone to make it 14-6.
Cavanaugh finished the game with 88 yards passing and two touchdowns.
“Larry has been phenomenal in warm-ups,” Parker said. “He is getting a lot better. He is a very reliable quarterback.”
The Saints kept the momentum going on its next drive. Parker busted through two would-be-tacklers and sprinted 57 yards for a TD to push the Vail Christian lead to 22-6 following a two-point conversion. The senior dedicated the touchdown to teammate Elliot Ristow who was taken off the field the previous series with what appeared to be a severe knee injury.
“When Elliot went down, it lit a fire under these kids,” Vail Christian coach Tim Pierson said. “It was really magnified with Will’s effort on that run.”
Parker rushed for a team-high 87 yards on six carries. Burgess added another 70 on the ground, as Vail Christian racked up 250 yards rushing on 28 carries.
The Saints got excellent field position again when Steil Beagley forced a fumble to give Vail Christian possession on the Crusader 35-yard line. Devon Christie punched the ball in four plays later from seven yards out for a 28-6 lead.
Hurtt put an exclamation point on the big second half minutes later when he rumbled in from 32 yards on a screen pass from Cavanaugh.
“That felt awesome,” Hurtt said. “That is my first touchdown, actually. That was for Elliot. Hopefully he’ll be all right.”
Turnovers dominate first half
Turnovers plagued both teams in the first half, but they really stung Vail Christian. The Saints fumbled the opening kickoff and turned the ball over five times in the first 24 minutes.
Maranatha Christian capitalized on Vail Christian’s first turnover, taking the ball 30 yards for the touchdown and 6-0 lead. Crusaders quarterback Alex Lampe hit Nick St. John in the end zone on fourth-and-3 for the score.
The Saints’ only score of the first half also came thanks in large part to a turnover. Hurtt picked off a Lampe pass ” his first of two on the night ” and returned it deep inside Maranatha Christian territory. Hurtt credited film work for the two interceptions.
“We moved Kieran from nose guard to middle linebacker this week, because of an injury to Simon Elliot,” Pierson said. “He did outstanding. He read the play well. He’s got a good football head.”
Burgess made sure Vail Christian scored off the Hurtt pick. After a holding penalty set the Saints back 15 yards, Burgess burst through the right side for 17 yards. Four plays later, Burgess plunged over the goal line for a 1-yard TD run. Cavanaugh found Hurtt in the end zone to give Vail Christian an 8-6 lead heading into the break.
“It was a little bit like the Twilight Zone with the turnovers,” Pierson said. “It was strange. People that don’t put the ball on the ground, put the ball on the ground. It happened a lot. It was frustrating, we had to play a lot of defense in the first half. We rallied and played pretty well.”
Vail Christian (3-1) hosts Gilpin County next Friday night in Gypsum at 7 p.m.
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 748-2935.
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