AFTON — One of the strongest teams in the entire state resides in Afton with Star Valley (2-1) who hosted the Riverton (RHS) Wolverines (0-3) this past Friday night. The Braves were coming off their first loss of the season, a 31-14 rout against Sugar-Salem, ID, while Riverton has been getting better and better with every game since hiring new head coach Mark Lenhardt.
Both teams came into the week three matchup ranked in the top five across 3A in passing (Riverton – 2nd, Star Valley – 5th) and they both chose to show off their air raid offenses throughout their game in Afton. Last week’s close loss to Evanston displayed Riverton quarterback Darrick DeVries’ arm and his favorite receiver, Nick McIntosh, who combined for over 200 yards and three touchdowns through the air … and they were hoping to do the same against the Braves.
Right off the bat, DeVries started to warm up and hit McIntosh for a pass completion on a short curl route, but it wasn’t enough to get the first on third down so the Wolverines started with a three-and-out. Star Valley, on the other hand, didn’t need to warm up and broke through the Riverton defense on the very first play for a 55-yard run up the middle off a jet sweep play. Two minutes into the game, Star Valley was up 7-0.
On the very first play of the Wolverines’ next drive, DeVries once again took to the air and connected on a seven-slant route to McIntosh over the middle, completing the pass over a Braves defender for 28 yards. A few good runs by Blake Gantenbein and the Wolverines’ backfield pushed them up into the red zone with over seven minutes to go in the first quarter, and it looked to end positively with a pass into the endzone for Ty Sheets but the referees agreed it did not pass the goal line and set the Wolverines up at the one-half yard line.
The Braves’ defense held strong until a power run by Gantenbein (above) sent the Wolverines up to the scoreboard, but a partially blocked PAT kept Riverton down by one, 7-6. That score held until one minute into the second quarter when junior Bryson Nield took another Braves’ touchdown run into the endzone off a jet sweep from 50 yards out. Star Valley’s kicker also missed the PAT, this time wide left, which kept the game within one possession, 13-6, with 10:30 to go in the first half.
Less than 60 seconds later Star Valley found another score after DeVries threw a bullet to Sheets, only to be intercepted by Braves’ senior Kash Lancaster for a 60-yard pick six. Then, after some trickery with a fake field goal, the Braves were able to get in for the two-point conversion to their 6’6” senior tight end Simon Gaskell.
Still, down 21-6, the Riverton Wolverines and their traveling fans were extremely optimistic. They’ve had two solid games so far this season, outweighing their success over the past three years despite no wins in the win-loss column. DeVries never stopped trusting his arm, tossing multiple darts to Sheets and McIntosh over the middle of the field. Sadly, a few too many three-and-outs kept Riverton looking up for the rest of the first half, even giving up a 28-yard touchdown pass that sailed like a rainbow into the endzone with just over 70 seconds to go, making it 28-6.
With thirty seconds left in the first half the Wolverines had driven down to the 20-yard line, but it all stalled after a holding call and a long ball towards the endzone was once again picked off. At halftime the score remained 28-6. That would remain until roughly two minutes into the third, that was when senior running back Jesse Leavitt took it to the house from 37 yards out.
The game slipped away from Riverton on both sides of the ball after halftime, staring at a 35-6 deficit and then a 42-6 deficit for much of the last 24 minutes. Eventually Star Valley tacked on even more, with a few nice plays on defense and offense from Riverton sprinkled in between Braves’ scoring drives. At the end of 48 minutes of play the Wolverines looked at a 56-6 loss on the road.
Still, despite the loss and the tough start to the season thanks to the toughest non-conference schedule in Class 3A football, the optimism could be felt everywhere on the Wolverines’ side of the ball. Coach Lenhardt explained to the WyoToday broadcast booth after the game that the road to success is paved with games like this, and that each day the team grows stronger and more resilient.
Up next, Riverton hosts Rawlins on Friday with their Homecoming celebrations taking place before and during the game. You can watch and listen to that game live on WyoToday’s YouTube page and on 93.9 KTAK, home of all Riverton athletics.
BY: Shawn O’Brate