This game was over before it began
Friday night’s Eagle Valley-Battle Mountain game was decided before kickoff.This is meant as no disrespect to Eagle Valley’s fine play in their 54-12 win over the Huskies. This is meant as no disrespect to Battle Mountain’s hard work throughout the season and its effort Friday night.There is fundamental story line occurring between the two programs which made Friday’s game predictable. Eagle Valley football is everything to which Battle Mountain aspires. When one thinks of Devils football, one thinks of coach John Ramunno, the double wing, a tradition of winning and the seemingly endless pipeline of talent which comes through Hot Stuff Stadium.Eagle Valley football has a program in place. Battle Mountain is trying to build one. And that is why the Devils won Friday night, and why they’ve won every meeting between the two teams since 1997.Coaching and stability
Rammuno has been patrolling the Devils’ sideline for a quarter of a century. He is part of a dying breed of coaches who are pretty much lifers at one school.With his lengthy tenure at Eagle Valley, Ramunno has brought stability to Devils football. You know every fall that he’s going to be there. You know every fall that the double wing will be in place.And laugh as you might about the double wing, the ancient offense, there’s a reason Ramunno runs it. It works. Battle Mountain coach Pat Engle’s no dummy. He knew exactly what the Devils were running, In defensive drills this week, he literally put 13 players on offense to school his charges on the multiple looks that the double wing presents. But come game time, the Huskies had no answer to the double wing.The beauty of Ramunno’s system is also embedded in the culture of football at Eagle Valley. Devils start learning this system when they’re on the freshman and junior varsity teams. You rarely see an underclassman playing varsity football for Ramunno. By the time a Devils player makes the varsity team, he knows the system. Ramunno can toss in a Kenny Slaughter for a Steve Evancho seamlessly.You cannot say the same thing about the Huskies. In my nine seasons here, Battle Mountain’s had Scott Wiedeman, Duane Butcher, Fred Koetteritz and now Engle. Not exactly a recipe for stability. The Huskies have had a myriad of schemes from Wiedeman simply taking plays out of the San Francisco 49ers game the previous week (I’m not kidding here. I’d watch a Niner game and if a play worked, the Huskies were running it that week in practice) to the veer.That having been said, Engle looks like he’s here for the long haul. Talk to him and you cannot doubt his intense drive to right the ship at Battle Mountain. He’s building a JV program which has had success so far this year. He’s started an offseason training program, sorely missing at Battle Mountain. He has his team believing.
But it takes time. This is not basketball where you get a Josh Henry to transfer into the district and you have a basketball team. Right now, Engle has 40-45 players and cannot, like Ramunno, afford an injury. We saw this last year. The Huskies started with Adrian Martinez and Travis Scholl at running back and were fine. When they got hurt and underclassmen had to play, the wheels fell off. Friday night, quarterback Bart Cuomo separated his shoulder and is out for the year. Battle Mountain’s JV quarterback is out for the season also. The Huskies are down to their third stringer, Kristjan Gannon.CultureAnd that brings us to numbers and tradition. Yes, Eagle Valley had a down season last year. But the Devils are back this year, a missed extra point away from 5-0 and likely playoff bound.Year in, year out, Eagle Valley wins. And that means that kids grow up wanting to be Eagle Valley football players. If you were at the game Friday, you might have noticed all the tykes lined up along the fence north of the stands. Those kids were looking at the likes of Mike Medsker, Sean Matheson and so on and thinking that’s what they want to be in high school.That also happens with Battle Mountain sports. Unfortunately for football, it’s at Huskies hockey games where kids like Daniel Westerberg line up at Dobson to greet the players as they come off the ice.Engle is fighting Battle Mountain’s athletic culture on two fronts. The first is that Battle Mountain athletes gear their plans toward skiing and hockey. If they do another sport or two, those sports will be conditioning in nature – soccer, cross country and track. In a related development, those programs are some of the most successful the school has to offer.
Don’t tell me Battle Mountain doesn’t have the talent to field a great football team. You want to tell me that Austin Chow wouldn’t have made a great receiver? How about Jason Chase at free safety? If he weren’t playing soccer, don’t you think Engle would like Connor Drumm at linebacker and running back?Unlike Eagle Valley, where three-sport athletes are common place, most Battle Mountain athletes are singular in purpose. That has to change.There’s also the catch-22. “Battle Mountain football is terrible, so I’m not going out for football.” As a result, kids don’t come out for football and the program doesn’t have the depth to develop and compete. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.So while Ramunno stands at the top of the mountain, Engle plays the role of Sisyphus trying to push that rock up the hill. Make no mistake, Engle will get the rock to the top of the mountain. He’s going to will it to happen.But to make it so, Battle Mountain football’s going to have to become a lot more like Eagle Valley. Sports editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555 or via email@example.com.Vail Colorado