Rams fall out of title hunt with loss to Devils
GYPSUM – During the fourth quarter of Eagle Valley’s 19-2 win over Roaring Fork Friday night, senior Craig Jagger took the handoff and followed lineman John Saldana 32 yards in front of the Devils bench. Taking a cue from Moses, Saldana parted the sea of Rams to allow Jagger’s longest run of the night.
It wasn’t always that easy.
The Devils trailed 2-0 at halftime, then rallied behind a pair of rushing touchdowns from senior Justin Wood, who also connected through the air to Jagger, to finish off Roaring Fork and seal Eagle Valley’s second straight Western Slope League championship.
In head coach John Ramunno’s 23 years at the helm, he’s never done that.
“All week, we talked about our seniors. Tonight, they came out and gave their best effort,” Ramunno said. “I saw some worried looks at halftime, but they kid were used to making big plays. We changed some things, and were able to come out strong and win.”
It was evident early in the game that it wouldn’t be an ordinary night for either team. Both squads entered the game 5-0 in the league, averaging a margin of victory of about 25 points.
When the Devils fumbled the opening kickoff, Roaring Fork recovered. But the Rams gave it right back when junior tailback James Leonard lost the handle. No harm was done. Both teams traded punts until early in the second quarter.
The Devils, backed up inside their own 20, botched the snap on a punt. Senior J.J. Alvis had no choice but to down the ball in the end zone.
The scoreboard would read 2-0 for the rest of the half. During last season’s 12-7 win over Roaring Fork, it was Eagle Valley which had a 2-0 lead at half, using a botched punt.
“I was thinking deja vu,” Ramunno said. He and his longtime staff worked the kinks out at halftime.
“We had too many mistakes in that first half,” senior Pat Kohl said. Kohl had three sacks on the day, and led the Eagle Valley defensive charge after intermission.
It began when Leonard, who ran for 74 yards of 17 carries, fumbled on his first touch after halftime on his own 20. Wood converted it into points with a 1-yard bootleg touchdown.
“When we recovered that fumble, we got fired up and got the job done,” Saldana said. “We were in the football game the whole time.”
The Devils defense held Roaring Fork, which decided to try a fake punt on its next possession. Junior Derek Baldwin slapped the pass out of bounds, and the Devils took over at the Rams’ 43.
“We preached the same thing John (Ramunno) was saying all week,” Rams head coach Tory Jensen said. “Limit the turnovers and penalties. He said it and I said it. When we started the second half with a fumble, I knew. It was the little things.”
From there, Eagle Valley worked the clock, finishing off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Wood to Jagger, who was wide open in the back of the end zone.
Meanwhile, Roaring Fork couldn’t go anywhere. The Rams were forced Roaring Fork to punt on its last three possessions. And when Eagle Valley took five minutes off the fourth-quarter clock with a drive deep into Rams territory, the game was all but sealed. Wood added a 3-yard touchdown on the option on the Devils’ last drive to finish the scoring.
“I wanted these guys to hustle the whole game,” Ramunno said. “Once we got driving on Roaring Fork, they (Roaring Fork) started to walk through the motions. We kept it up and hustled the whole time.”
The Rams face Cedaredge Friday in a game that will determine second place in the league.
“It’s put up or shut up,” Jensen said.
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Down 14-7 with less than 11 minutes left in regulation, Rifle head coach Todd Casebier decided it was time to deviate from his ground-and-pound offense for a bit of an aerial attack.