Red Devils tame Wolverines for first win

Morrow throws for 3 TDs in 34-27 win; Lander next

Don Cogger, Herald Sports Editor
Posted 9/13/23

Led by a balanced, methodical offensive attack, and a defense that made the big plays when it counted, the Evanston High School football team took a major step toward its goal of returning to the 3A State Playoffs Friday, beating Riverton 34-27 in front of a packed house at Kay Fackrell Stadium.

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Red Devils tame Wolverines for first win

Morrow throws for 3 TDs in 34-27 win; Lander next


Led by a balanced, methodical offensive attack, and a defense that made the big plays when it counted, the Evanston High School football team took a major step toward its goal of returning to the 3A State Playoffs Friday, beating Riverton 34-27 in front of a packed house at Kay Fackrell Stadium.

It was the first win of the Steve Moore era for the Red Devils (1-2), who will have a chance to even their record this Friday against Lander.

“There were still some mistakes, obviously,” Moore said. “Still some things to clean up. But we were much improved. I think, across the board, we still have some work to do in the secondary, our pass defense. But as far as offensively, and up front, we felt like we made some major improvements. We’re pretty excited about that.”

Riverton (0-3) won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, giving the Red Devils the ball to start the game. For a team not known for its fast starts, Evanston moved the ball well on their first possession, beginning with an 18-yard run by Gabe Hutchinson on the first play from scrimmage.

Nice runs by Brady Roberts followed, including converting a 4th-and-4 that gave the Red Devils the ball on the Riverton 30. Two plays later, Hutchinson caught the corner on a quick pitch and was off to the races for a 24-yard touchdown. Jordan Mendez booted the extra point, and Evanston led 7-0, with just over seven minutes to play in the first quarter.

The Red Devils’ defense forced a punt on Riverton’s first possession, and Morrow and his offense set up shop deep in Wolverines’ territory. Roberts powered up the middle for an 18-yard gain to the Riverton 31. Facing a 3rd-and-1, Morrow kept it himself and found a hole in the middle of the defense, sprinting 79 yards to the house for Evanston’s second score of the game. A bobbled snap briefly turned placeholder Brecken Rich into a quarterback on the point after attempt, but his throw to the end zone for a two-point conversion was over the head of Clayton Cook, and the Red Devils led 13-0.

“It felt really good to get our offense in a rhythm early,” Moore said. “When you have both the passing game and the rushing game going, it makes play calling a lot easier.”

Riverton got its offense going late in the first quarter, exploiting the Red Devils’ secondary for a long pass deep into Evanston territory. But despite starting with a 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line, the Wolverines were forced to settle for a field goal, courtesy of the Red Devils’ stingy defense. Evanston led 13-3, as the first quarter ended.

The Red Devils punted for the first time to open the second quarter of play, burying Riverton back on their own 15-yard line. The defense continued to play well, forcing a fumble that nose tackle Aiden Liechty recovered on the 15, giving the Red Devils a chance to blow the game open. A couple of Roberts runs had Evanston 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line, but the Wolverines’ defense proved to be opportunistic as well, forcing a fumble on Roberts’ next carry and retaking possession. Riverton took advantage, pulling within three points on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Darrick DeVries to Nick McIntosh to make it 13-10.

The Red Devils answered with a sustained drive that featured a healthy mix of Roberts and Hutchinson on the ground and a long pass on third down to Braunson Sims that extended the drive. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties had Evanston moving in the wrong direction at different points of the drive, but a 28-yard connection from Morrow to Kai Barker and a pair of passes to kicker turned sure-handed receiver Jordan Mendez eventually set up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Morrow to Drew Barker in the corner of the end zone. Mendez’s extra point made it 20-10 with 2:28 left in the half.

The Drew Barker Show continued on Riverton’s next drive, as the Wolverines appeared poised to score before the end of the half. But on a 2nd-and-10 from the Evanston 23, DeVries’ pass over the middle was picked off by Barker, who briefly lost the handle on it, but was able to fall on it and retain possession. Evanston ran out the clock, and took a 20-10 lead into the break, where coach Moore had some choice words prepared for his team.

“I got after them pretty good, actually,” Moore said. “The personal fouls, the jumping offsides — those things have to stop. So we got after them a little bit, because, honestly, we felt like it should be more than a 10-point lead. We fumbled on the goal line going in, and we gave up some big plays. We need to eliminate those things to be the team that we want to be, to have the end that we want to have. It wasn’t ‘Hey, we’re happy where we’re at’ — it was ‘We should be doing better than we are.’”

Riverton had the ball to start the second half, and promptly drove down into Red Devil territory. Evanston’s defense once again proved its tenacity in the red zone, holding the Wolverines to a field goal.

Evanston’s first drive of the second half got off to a promising start, before a fumble gave the Wolverines the ball back with a short field at the Red Devils 45. Evanston’s defense forced a fourth-down situation, but on 4th-and-7 from the 30, Riverton’s DeVries hit McIntosh for a 30-yard score; with the extra point, the game was tied 20-20 with just over two minutes to play in the third.

The Red Devils began their next drive at their own 33-yard line, with Roberts breaking off a 43-yard run on the first play from scrimmage to get down to the Riverton 25. The drive culminated in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Morrow to Kai Barker, and the Red Devils were back on top, 27-20.

Riverton’s offense was on the move again as the fourth quarter started, driving into Red Devil territory. Their momentum was slowed somewhat when Evanston’s Cole Robinette and Jesse Page combined for a sack of Wolverines’ quarterback DeVries, setting up a 3rd-and-long on the Red Devils’ 25-yard line. Undeterred, DeVries found his favorite target yet again, hooking up with McIntosh over the middle for his third touchdown catch of the night, and bringing the game back to even at 27-27.

A nice return by Hutchinson on the ensuing kickoff had the Red Devils starting at their own 28, with just over six minutes to play. Back-to-back passes to Kai Barker and Roberts had Evanston in Wolverines territory, and facing a 3rd-and-goal from the 17, Morrow rolled right and fired a strike to Drew Barker in the end zone, who went up and over a defender to make the grab.

“That was just a great play call by Coach Barker,” Morrow said. “We had hit that play a couple times previous that game, and knew we could find an open man. When I saw the three strong-side routes [covered], Drew just waved his arm at me that he was open, and I threw it and that play ultimately won us the game.”

Barker agreed.

“I just knew to do my job the best I could, which in that case was running hard on the back side,” he said. “I tried to find a window, and Cohen made a great throw.”

For his part, coach Moore admitted he thought it might not work, but was pleased with the outcome.

“I thought maybe Cohen threw that pass a little late,” Moore said, laughing. “I saw Drew come open across there, and he did a great job of going up and snagging it over that Riverton kid’s fingertips. That was a bigtime play, for sure.”

Mendez’s point-after made it 34-27, though Riverton still had 3:08 to work with.

The Red Devils’ defense – playing like the unit coaches and fans expected them to be at the beginning of the season — came out the next series determined to slam the door for good. Riverton quickly picked up a pair of first downs, and moved the ball into Red Devils’ territory at the 43. A holding penalty backed the Wolverines back across the 50-yard line, and after a 3rd-down pass play was broken up by Evanston defensive back Michael Kopp, Riverton was forced to go for it on fourth down to keep their scoring chances alive.

Facing a 4th-and-12 with just over a minute to play in regulation, DeVries called his own number on a quarterback draw, and seemed to find an opening in the defense. Robinette — injured earlier in the series, but back on the field for this play — met DeVries just past the line of scrimmage, dropping the quarterback in his tracks, and securing the win for the Red Devils.

Evanston was able to run out the clock in the victory formation, and the first win of the Steve Moore era was in the books, 34-17.

“It’s pretty exciting, to get that first win,” Moore said. “I’m happy for the kids, happy to see the smiles on their faces. But we’re definitely not satisfied. It’s a great win, it’s a first win. But we have bigger goals.”

Morrow had perhaps his best day under center for the Red Devils, completing 15 of 19 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns; he also ran for a 69-yard touchdown. Drew Barker was on the receiving end of two of those touchdowns, catching two passes for 27 yards, including the gamewinner. Kai Barker was Morrow’s favorite target on the day, hauling in seven passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Roberts, Mendez and Sims caught two passes apiece, for 24, 18 and 18 yards, respectively.

“I think Cohen — as far as throwing the ball — that was his best game for us at quarterback,” Moore said. “He even checked us out of some things, which we’ve been coaching him up to do. He played really well. I mean, 15-for-19, and I think we had two drops in there, so it could have been even better. For high school football, that’s very efficient. Coach [Roy] Barker called a good game, keeping Riverton on their heels, putting us in second and short quite often. When you can do that, your playbook is wide open, and that’s an advantage.”

Brady Roberts led the charge on the ground, going over the century mark for the first time this season, grinding out 138 yards on 23 carries. Gabe Hutchinson followed with 53 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, while Morrow finished with 68 yards on three carries.

“That win met a ton,” Morrow said. “First, it showed us that we can come out each and every week to play against these teams and win. Second, it showed that we have something special going on within our team.”

Defensively, six Red Devils finished in double figures, led by Kai Barker with 19 defensive points (10 tackles, two passes defended). Roberts followed with 16.5 points (10 tackles, forced fumble), while Morrow finished with 12.5 points, including 1.5 tackles for loss and one pass broken up. Drew Barker tallied 11 points, including the game’s only interception, while Aiden Liechty and Braunson Sims finished with 10 points apiece. Cole Robinette and Jesse Page combined for the team’s only sack on DeVries; Robinette finished with 9.5 defensive points.

“We’ve been preaching ‘Bend, don’t break’ on defense, and that’s what we did on Friday,” Moore said. “We’re going to give up plays in front of us — it’s those plays over the top of us that have been our nemesis this year. But there’s no quit in our kids — we just need to stop those big plays. But we’re getting there.”

The Red Devils will welcome back a familiar face Friday, as former head coach Jim Burton brings his 0-3 Lander Tigers to town to square off against his former team. Moore said it should be an exciting game.

“It will be good to see coach Burton again,” Moore said. “It’s going to be another battle — we obviously know what they’re going to do offensively, to a certain degree. He may have a few wrinkles for us, but I’m sure we’ll have an idea of what they’re going to hang their hat on. And they do a pretty good job at it, so we have to be disciplined, read our keys and do our job with that option offense.”

Drew Barker agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“This next week is a very big, fun week,” he said. “I think it is very important to win to show a changed culture, which is something our coaches have been emphasizing. Getting a win would also be huge for our confidence and expectation to win the rest of the year.”