STEAMBOAT SPRINGS (11/8/19) – First three quarterbacks unavailable? No matter for the suddenly unstoppable ground game of the Glenwood Springs Demons, who finished their season with a third straight victory, 44-0 at Steamboat Springs.
Two weeks ago, six different Demons ran for touchdowns against Battle Mountain. In Summit County a week ago, Garrett Dollahan scored four rushing touchdowns as he and three teammates topped the 100-yard mark.
In the final game of a 4-6 season that began 0-and-5, it was Blake Nieslanik’s turn to lead the charge, scoring three, second-quarter touchdowns and going over the century mark again with 127 yards gained in just ten carries. Tucker Porter, the converted tackle rushed for 110 yards in 17 attempts and scored his team-leading sixth TD. Steady Elliot Walz ran 17 times for 84 yards, one touchdown, and three extra point conversions.
The offensive line of Kelton and Nolan McPherson, Spencer Cloud, Crosby McMahon, and Brady Porter, along with tight end Sam Fitzwilliams (who unfortunately had to leave the game with a knee injury in the second quarter), provided the up-front blocking for 357 yards, leading to 16 first-downs, and four touchdowns.
The Demons’ fourth quarterback of the season was sophomore Wheatley Nieslanik, making his initial appearance under center, was flawless in his exchanges, ball fakes, and even threw a touchdown pass in his only attempt, eight yards to Porter that started the mercy-rule, running clock four minutes into the second half. For good measure, Nieslanik also completed an extra point conversion pass to Walz, who was playing with a torn tendon in his elbow and a broken arm, according to coach Pat Engle.
“We’re a hospital unit,” Engle said, referring to injuries to his first and second quarterbacks, Dylan Albright and Evan Heyl, and then an illness that limited Ray Rosenmerkel, who took over at halftime last week for Heyl, then quarterbacked the jayvee team to an undefeated season before coming down with the flu.
“But we’re mentally tough,” Engle said, also referring to his team winning four of its last five games after that murderous start, which included five teams that reached the state playoffs.
Engle also said his team “spent quite a bit of time on pass defense” after giving up three TD passes and a season-high 257 yards at Summit last Friday. The result: three interceptions of the league’s leading passer, Steamboat’s Cade Gedean, who was held to 8-of-20 for 96 yards. The Demon defense also completely shut down the Sailors’ ground game, aided by the loss of Finn Russell, who is the Western Slope’s leading rusher, to an injury. His replacements managed to gain a net 10 yards in 16 attempts.
The Demons began the contest by driving 80 yards in ten plays, using nearly six minutes and rushing for five first downs until Walz scored from the four. Porter ran in the extra point for an 8-0 lead with 6:05 to go in the first quarter.
The Defense yielded a first down on penalty, then forced a punt and mounted another sustained ground attack, covering 87 yards in 14 plays, Blake Nieslanik bursting through the Sailor secondary for the final 22 early in the second quarter.
Gedean dropped back to pass on Steamboat’s first play after the kickoff, only to be picked by Dollahan, who returned it to the Sailor 43. Walz and Porter did most of the work, getting down to the 14, where Nieslanik again dashed in for the score. A fumbleruski by Kelton McPherson for the extra points fell short, but Glenwood led 22-0 with 4:10 left in the half.
Steamboat tried a halfback pass from Jevon Hovey on its next play from scrimmage. Same result. This time lineman Camden Hassell pulled down the wounded duck near the Sailor 20 yard line. Two plays later Porter carried 15 yards to the one, then took the ball into the end zone to make it 28-0.
Gedean scrambled for 16 yards to his 36, before throwing yet another interception on third down, with Stephen Morris making the grab at midfield. Blake Nieslanik once again burst through the Sailor defense, 58 seconds before halftime, scoring from 43 yards, and cousin Wheatley found an open Walz for two points and a 36-0 halftime advantage.
Steamboat committed its fourth turnover of the game seconds into the third quarter, Wheatley Nieslanik recovering a fumble at the Sailor 27. Five runs reached the eight, where Nieslanik completed his first varsity touchdown pass to Walz, starting the running clock.
“The six teams we lost to made the playoffs,” Engle summarized. “We played the best,” and the gauntlet saw the Demons finish second in the WSL with a 4-1 mark. The future looks bright for the Demons, who finished the season with “less than ten seniors in uniform,” Engle pointed out, before losing co-captain Fitzwilliams to a knee inury.
The other seniors playing their last game included Walz, JP Simpson, Porter, Thorin Melby, Cloud, and the McPhersons.