GLENWOOD SPRINGS (10/5/12) – Like a bolder rolling downhill, the Eagle Valley ground game relentlessly brushed aside Glenwood Springs’ resurgent offense and dealt the Demons’ playoff hopes possibly a fatal blow, 42-28 Friday.
Despite 366 yards passing and three touchdown passes by Travis Lundin, including 64 and 69 second-half scoring strikes to Auston Tribble, the inability of the defense to stop the thunder-and-lightning combination of the Devils’ backfield tandem, Cole Nielsen and Cody Thurston leaves Glenwood (2-4, 2-3 WSL) trailing Rifle (6-0, 5-0), Palisade (5-1, 3-1), and now Eagle Valley (5-1, 3-1) and Delta (4-2, 3-1).
The opening drive of the second half, when the Devils extended a 14-point halftime lead to 27-7 by consuming 8:27, going 92 yards in 20 plays, provided a portrait of the frustration that was Glenwood’s on its Homecoming night.
The defense stopped Eagle Valley on all three of its third-down plays, but each time, coach John Ramunno called junior fullback Cody Thurston’s fourth-down number to extend the drive. Thurston, who finished with 102 yards on 21 carries, converted nine first downs in the game, including five, fourth-down attempts. Nielsen, who had 236 yards in 34 carries, concluded the epic drive with the second of his three touchdowns from six-yards out.
Henry Hill returned the kickoff 22 yards to Glenwood’s 36 and on the only play from scrimmage for the Demons in the third quarter Lundin hit Tribble in stride at the 50 and he outran the Devil secondary to complete a 64-yard touchdown. But after Robert Hiles’ extra point kick made it 27-14 with 3:04 to go in the quarter, the inevitable, crushing response by the Eagle offense, in its tightly-packed formation, featuring one-foot splits by the lineman, two tight ends and two slot backs, began again.
The Devils converted two more fourth downs as they used up the rest of the third quarter in a 10-play, 60-yard drive — all on the ground — that boosted the lead to 35-14 two plays into the fourth quarter. Once again the Demons struck back with Hill returning the kickoff (no one kicks to Tribble anymore after seeing his three, 90-yard-plus touchdown returns in the Demons first five games) 20 yards to the 30. This time it took two plays for Glenwood to score, Lundin hooking up with Tribble for 69 yards after a one-yard gain on first down.
With 10:47 left to play, coach Rocky Whitworth recognized Eagle might use up the rest of the time, so Hiles looped an onside kick — usually reserved for end-of-the-game desperation — that was recovered by the Demons’ Derrick Chase at the Devils’ 36. But, adding to the frustration of the night, the Demons got inside the ten-yard line, but couldn’t score for the second time in the game — and it wouldn’t be the last.
The first indication that things might not go Glenwood’s way came following the opening kickoff first when, led by 44 yards rushing by Hill and 3-of-4 passing from Lundin, the Demons reeled off five first downs, but a holding call helped stall the 72-yard drive at the eight, where Hiles just missed a 26 yard field goal attempt wide right.
Nielsen almost single-handedly carried the Devils from their 20 to the Demon 30, but, inexplicably, Eagle abandoned the run at 3rd-and-7, and a pair of incomplete passes turned the ball over on downs. They wouldn’t deviate from the ground game again, following a 3-and-out and poor punt by Glenwood, with 7 running plays, resulting in Nielsen’s first score with 10:16 to go in the second quarter.
Another Demon punt preceded an 80-yard drive by the Devils, all but the final 10 yards on the ground. Hudspeth, scrambling on third down, found Sam Boyd alone in the end zone for a 13-0 lead with 4:29 left in the half. Glenwood responded with an 83-yard drive of their own, featuring a 56-yard completion to Tribble, and capped by Lundin stretching over the goal line from the two. Hiles, who was 4-for-4 on PATs, made it 13-7 with 1:22 to go and appeared to set up a tough battle for playoff positioning in the second half.
However, a squibbed kickoff gave Eagle the ball near midfield and a 27-yard screen pass to Nielsen took the ball inside the Glenwood 30 with 41 seconds left. Hudspeth found Zeke Sandoval in the end zone for a 27-yard TD, and repeated the connection for the two-point conversion and a 21-7 lead with 33 seconds remaining.
Glenwood made the last half-minute before the Homecoming festivities interesting when Lundin hit Grant Fegan for 28 yards, then Caiden Sorensen for 33 more as time expired. But an unsportsmanlike penalty against Eagle in throwing Sorensen to the ground out of bounds put the ball at the seven and gave Lundin one more chance. He got the ball to Tribble in the left flat and the senior captain appeared to have reached across the goal line for a touchdown, but it was ruled his knee touched down at the one before the ball crossed the end zone plane. Then came the third-quarter drive that wouldn’t die and the Devils built a 21-point fourth quarter lead.
Glenwood finally forced Eagle Valley to punt for the first time after the Demons failed to convert their 4th-and-goal from the seven with 8 minutes left in the game. But Lundin was intercepted by Nielsen, then just as it appeared the Devils would grind out the clock, Hudspeth went to the air following a holding call and Fegan picked off the pass and returned it to Eagle’s 45.
Given another chance, Lundin passed to Hill for 30 yards, then on third down from the 15, fittingly found Fegan in the end zone. This time the onside kick attempt with 2:35 remaining was recovered by Eagle, and Nielsen and Thurston ground up 49 yards in 8 carries, the big fullback scoring from the one with nine seconds to go.
The Devils’ dominating one-two punch accounted for almost all of their 394 yards in 71 rushing attempts, four touchdowns, and all but one of 22 first-downs.
Even if the Devils lose to both Palisade and Rifle, they would still have only three league losses and own the tie-breaker over the Demons, who would be 5-3 if they win their final three Western Slope games. So the road to the third WSL playoff spot just got a lot steeper, but resumes with a Thursday night road game at Moffat County (3-3, 1-3) this week.