Rifle ruins Eagle Valley’s finale
Vail, CO Colorado
GYPSUM, Colorado – Only 2 minutes and 55 seconds stood between Eagle Valley and a perfect ending to its comeback season.
The Devils had just completed a vintage John Ramunno drive, going 77 yards on 11 plays ” all on the ground ” for a go-ahead touchdown to make the score 28-25.
Unfortunately for Eagle Valley, Rifle (3-7, 3-5) ruined its senior-sendoff. The Bears marched 78 yards in the closing minutes to steal a 31-28 victory at Hot Stuff Stadium in Gypsum. The loss ends the Devils’ season with a record of 4-5 (4-4). Eagle Valley won four out of its last five games after starting the year 0-5 against a brutal schedule.
“(After our touchdown) I thought, ‘Make three plays and we are out of here,”‘ Ramunno said. “We couldn’t do it.”
Trailing 25-21 in the fourth quarter, Eagle Valley put together arguably its best drive of the season. Starting on their own 23-yard line, the Devils methodically took the ball downfield.
Senior John Crawford started the series with a 16-yard burst up the middle. Four plays later, Matt Morgan converted a fourth-and-4 to keep the drive alive. The Devils were helped on another fourth down when Rifle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving Eagle Valley the ball at the Bears’ 24-yard line.
Crawford capped the 5:30 drive with a 1-yard TD run to give the Devils a 28-25 lead.
“We were just staying on blocks,” Crawford said. “Our lineman did a great job.”
It looked like Eagle Valley would come away with the victory after pinning Rifle deep on the kickoff with less than three minutes to play. The Bears’ running backs were determined to go out winners.
Tyrel Lenard ” who rushed for 136 yards ” sprinted around left end for a big, 33-yard gain to move into Eagle Valley territory. Lenard finished off the Devils with a 2-yard touchdown plunge.
“It was our mentality. We said we were going to win it on the ground,” Rifle coach Anthony Alfini said. “It was our mindset to just grind it out.”
“We just couldn’t tackle (Lenard),” Crawford said. “He’s a tough guy, and we couldn’t tackle him.”
Twice on the possession, Eagle Valley had opportunities to intercept a Logan Powell pass, but it couldn’t hang onto the ball. On one of the Bears’ big plays, two Devils players tipped a pass before Rifle’s Joseph Burgess came down with it for a 26-yard gain inside Eagle Valley’s 5-yard line.
Devils hang on
Eagle Valley did well just to stay in the game in the first half. Five Rifle possessions moved into Devils’ territory, producing 19 Bears points. Rifle out-gained the Devils 224 to 70 in the opening 24 minutes, and 399 to 191 in the game.
Rifle quickly built a 7-0 lead on its first drive. Lenard rumbled for 28 yards on his first carry of the night. The next play, Powell scrambled in from eight yards out for the score.
“Defensively, we just didn’t have a good night,” Ramunno said. “We missed a lot of tackles.”
The Eagle Valley defense stiffened, but a questionable non-call by the officials essentially handed the Bears their second TD. The Devils’ Cody Coulter was barreled into before he was able to catch a punt. Rifle recovered the fumble and easily scored to stretch its lead to 13-0.
Robert Padgett responded for Eagle Valley. The senior broke to the left and into the clear for a 94-yard kick return touchdown to cut the deficit to 13-7.
“(Padgett’s return) lifted our guys, I thought,” Ramunno said. “We hadn’t done that all year, so that was pretty cool.”
The Devils went in front on their next possession. Morgan went nearly untouched for a 12-yard TD on a quarterback sneak for the 14-13 advantage. Rifle regained the lead, 19-14, right before the half on a 3-yard touchdown run by Dano Fugita, who finished with 96 yards and two TDs.
The loss ends the careers of 16 Eagle Valley seniors. Ramunno credited his team for continuing to improve after starting the season 0-5.
“I give these guys a lot of credit,” Ramunno said. “Starting the season 0-5 is a tough deal. I thought they showed a lot of character, and what they are all about. They played hard the entire season.”
Sports Writer Ian Smith can be reached at 748-2935 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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