Schlegel runs past Demons; Devils advance to Round 2
GYPSUM- Forget the clouds that were hanging over Hot Stuff Stadium on Saturday for Eagle Valley’s playoff opener against eighth-ranked Buena Vista.
Jerad Schlegel saw daylight.
The Devils senior streaked past the Buena Vista defense for 230 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns to lead Eagle Valley past the Demons, 34-21, and set up a rematch with unbeaten Eaton next Saturday, the team that knocked the Devils out of the playoffs last year.
“We knew coming in that he would have a good day, but he had a huge day,” said Eagle Valley coach John Ramunno, beaming after his team’s big win. “He’s a great running back. He reads his holes well, and he accelerates when he has to.”
Schlegel was also the MVP on defense, notching a team-high 21 tackles, and intercepting three passes from Demons quarterback Caleb Graff, the last one coming on the very last play of the game.
About the only thing the Devils senior star didn’t do was sweep out the bleachers and lock the stadium gates on Saturday.
“I played pretty well both ways,” said Schlegel. “I think I had a better offensive game because on defense I missed some tackles on some counter plays that they had go for big yards. Overall though, I thought I did a good job.”
The Devils got out to a quick start on their opening drive of the first quarter, charging out to midfield off two Schlegel runs – one for 20, and another for 13. The drive stalled, though, after fullback Tim Reitz and running back Steve Evancho both carried for losses and Schlegel was dropped for a 3-yard loss on a swing pass from quarterback Sean Bartlett.
After punting, the Devils defense held the Demons to a three-and-out, and the Eagle Valley offense retook the field, and took control of the game. On second-and-one from his team’s own 29-yard line, Schlegel took a handoff from Bartlett and followed a lead block from Reitz to squirt past the Demons super-sized defensive line and into the Buena Vista secondary for a huge 41-yard gain.
The Demons’ tightened down again, forcing Eagle Valley into a fourth-and-two from the Buena Vista 22, but Schlegel broke loose again, this time for 15-yards, to set up a first-and goal from the seven. On the very next play he punched it in to give the Devils a 6-0 lead. The extra-point attempt by Nathaniel Gallegos sailed wide.
“We came out early wanting to try and run at those big defensive ends. We thought we could cut up underneath them.” said Ramunno, referring to the Demon’s towering tandem of brothers John and Nate Solder, both 6-foot-8, 215 pounds. “It’s called a power play. We kick out the defensive end, and then we really fold down hard inside. Early on, every time we ran it, it was going for big yardage.”
The Devils improved on their lead again after the defense forced another three-and-out, and Eagle Valley took over at its own 43. Sean Matheson had a big run of 34 yards, and tight end Gallegos caught a 12-yard pass from Bartlett later in the drive to set up a second-and-goal from the six. Bartlett capped the drive with a quarterback keeper off of play action to put the Devils up by 12. The Devils had a bout of luck on their two-point conversion, when Gallegos picked up a loose football that Schlegel fumbled in the endzone.
Heading into the second quarter, the Devils were feeling comfortable with their 14-0 lead, maybe a little too comfortable as Buena Vista rallied back to tie the game, 21-21 before halftime.
Behind the steady running of junior running back Matt Copper and sophomore quarterback Caleb Graff, the Demons moved down the football all the way to Eagle Valley’s 19-yard line, converting one fourth-down along the way. Graff then hooked up with senior wideout Jeremy Tidwell on a crossing pattern for a 19-yard touchdown strike.
The Devils went right back to work on offense, following a huge 48-yard kickoff return from senior Steve Evancho to begin their drive at the Demons’ 37. Evancho hauled in a 23-yard pass from Bartlett on third-and-eight from the 35 to set up Eagle Valley at the 12. From there, Schlegel finished the march with his second touchdown of the game.
A 21-7 lead, quickly became, 21-14, though, when on the ensuing kickoff Copper streaked down the Eagle Valley sideline for a 91-yard kickoff return.
“The kickoff return was huge,” said Ramunno. We’ve had that problem twice now, where we can’t get kids to come up and bust up walls. They were dodging blocks, and when you dodge blocks you get hammered.”
It also doesn’t help when you fumble the ball from your own 29-yard line, which Eagle Valley did on its next possession on a bad exchange between Bartlett and Schlegel.
Three plays later, Graff threw his second touchdown pass of the day to Tidwell from 24 yards out to tie the game at 21.
The Demons almost took the lead on their next possession, when Graff floated a pass into the end-zone, intended for his biggest target Nate Solder, but Schlegel, who was in single coverage, outjumped the tight end for his first interception.
“We got their roster last week, and it said No. 80 is is 6-foot-8,” said Schlegel. “Everybody was talking about how good of a tight end he was. When he went out, I switched with [Ray] Buttermore, who is a little shorter. I feel like I can jump pretty good, and we just felt like I might have a better chance of covering him.”
The Devils ran out the clock after the pick and then ran into the locker room wondering how they had let Buena Vista back into the game.
“We got up 14-0, and then we gave them some gifts. They should have never got those,” said Schlegel. “It almost changed the momentum back to them. At halftime we said, “We’ve really got to step it up, because this is bull.’ In the third quarter, we came back out and picked it up, and got some momentum and showed that we had the bigger heart.”
That, they did.
After both teams exchanged possessions in the third quarter, Graff again lofted up a jump ball for Solder on the Demon’s second possession that Schlegel snagged from the air.
Two plays later, Bartlett heaved a bomb to a streaking Gallegos who hauled in the ball in stride and walked into the end zone. The play was good for a 55-yard touchdown reception.
The Devils defense continued to clamp down, stopping the Demons on fourth down on their next two possessions. The most critical play of the game came on a fourth-and-inches for the Demons from inside the Devils one-yard line, where Graff was swarmed under by a troop of Devils, only inches short from the tying score.
Eagle Valley managed to only get five yards on its next possession, but the damage had already been done. The Demons couldn’t muster anything on the next drive, and when Eagle Valley got the ball back, Schlegel made sure to snap whatever string of hope that the Demons still had left.
With 5:51 remaining, from his own 22-yard line, Schlegel took Bartlett’s handoff and never looked back, streaking past the Demons’ defense for a 78-yard touchdown run and an assured Round 2 matchup.
“I knew that this would be a test, because those guys are huge,” said Schlegel. “Our linemen showed that they can play. Even though they might not be as big, they were opening up great holes. Once I got to that second level, after getting through the hole, I could just pick and choose where I wanted to cut. They did an awesome job.”
Added defensive tackle Luis Landeros, who had a huge sack of Graff in the waning moments of the fourth quarter about his team’s effort Saturday,
“We’ve been working hard all week, just watching film, and I think we were ready for these guys. We knew they were going to run it inside and outside, but we were ready. Our goal was to get the quarterback, and I think everyone did a good job, especially the ends.”
In other Slope playoff action, 2A Western Slope champion Roaring Fork, who beat Eagle Valley 48-12 in the regular season won its Round 1 playoff game against La Junta on Saturday and will play next week at Estes Park.
Nate Peterson is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 608 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.