After five long years in the Lander Valley High School trophy case, the Keeper of the Gold returns to Riverton after a 50-21 win over the Tigers at Bill Bush Stadium Friday Night.
“This was one of their goals and the seniors stepped up tonight for us,” Riverton head coach Mark Lenhardt said.
The win moves the Wolverines to 2-3 on the season and more importantly, ties them with Buffalo for the East 3-A Conference lead at 2-0.
Buffalo handled Riverton’s next opponent, the Douglas Bearcats 13-3 Friday evening in Johnson County.
Friday’s tilt with the Tigers was supposed to be a blowout by the Wolverines according to many prognosticators, but Lander must have not gotten the message.
Riverton senior quarterback Darrick DeVries had a huge night with three rushing touchdowns and another three through the air.
“Darrick had a big night, with Jordan may out, and with two sophomore running backs, right now he’s probably our best ball carrier,” Lenhardt said.
As they said in Rocky, “They don’t know it’s a damn show, they think it’s a damn fight.”
The Tigers came out swinging after taking the opening kickoff. On the second play from scrimmage Lander sophomore Brayden Baker broke into the secondary and scored on a 63-yard run.
“We were able to open it up a bit, it’s turnovers and penalties that get us,” Lander head coach Jim Burton said.
Caleb Andrews added the conversion and the Tigers led 7-0 just 49 seconds into the game.
“I joked with the team, do you guys want to give everybody a seven-point lead,” Lenhardt said.
Riverton’s opponents have all scored first in their five games thus far.
Riverton wasn’t nearly as explosive. The Wolverines powered up the field in bits and pieces, grinding out yardage behind quarterback Darrick DeVries on power runs or on short passes to the flat.
Sophomore Hunter Saltsgaver gained six yards before being tackled just inches from the goal line and DeVries took it from there, crashing in for the score to cap a 14-play drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock.
“Lander did a good job, making us nickel and dime to get down the field, but we were able to do that,” Lenhardt said.
Riverton threw a little razzle-dazzle into the conversion attempt with Saltsgaver lining up to kick, but holder Nick McIntosh picked up the ball and raced untouched around the left end for an 8-7 Riverton lead.
“We saw some things in film and decided to try it,” Lenhardt said.
The Tigers stalled and Riverton’s next drive was a lot quicker with Ty Sheets scoring on a 44-yard pass from DeVries.
Riverton’s 15-7 lead was brief.
Lander freshman Finn McFadden took the ensuing kickoff at the goal line and raced through the Wolverine special team defense for a 99-yard kickoff return, cutting the Riverton lead to 15-14.
“We’re making explosive plays, we just can’t make the dumb ones,” Burton said. “We were much improved offensively, defensively we were in good places, we just need to make tackles.”
Riverton’s offensive line came to play. The big boys up front have improved with each game, and they locked up well with the Tiger defenders providing great protection for DeVries on 16 passing plays and delivering solid run blocking.
“They’re big and strong, they just overpowered us up front,” Burton said.
Lander’s next possession ended with a fumble, recovered by Riverton’s Talon Thoman at the 30-yard line and the Wolverines went to work on the ground.
A telling indicator of Riverton’s improved blocking came in 6-5, 235-pound junior tackle Ryan Cox as he leveled former teammate Bryce Mason, now playing for the Tigers after his parents moved to Lander. Cox delivered a “pancake with syrup” style block that set up Riverton’s next score, a DeVries three-yard run.
The Wolverines tallied a final opening half score with just 21 seconds left on a 44-yard scoring strike on a skinny post route by McIntosh. DeVries hit him in stride and McIntosh did the rest giving Riverton a 29-14 lead at the half.
The third period was all Wolverines with DeVries scoring on a three-yard run behind the proverbial “A hole so big a Mack truck could drive through it” at the 6:04 mark, and Ty Sheets providing a little Riverton lightning on a 65-yard counter.
Riverton’s final score came on a pass to sophomore Jackson Larsen who tallied his first varsity touchdown on a three-yard connection with DeVries.
Lander trailed 50-14 but there was still some fight in the Tigers.
Riverton was flagged for a personal foul and Tiger quarterback Pax Hollingshead was slammed to the ground souffle style and it swayed momentum back to the home team.
Lander mounted their best sustained drive of the game with Hunter Velarde capping the 11-play series on a two-yard run with 7:04 left on the clock.
Unofficial statistics had DeVries 19 of 24 for 249 yards, and Hollingshead 12 of 16 for 103 but with a pair of interceptions, the first by Sheets and the second off a deflected pass intercepted by sophomore Aiden Sanchez that ended Lander’s final drive.
Sheets tallied 102 yards on four receptions with McIntosh the workhorse catching seven balls for 88 yards.
Lander gained 242 total yards and Riverton 440 with the Wolverines generating 17 first downs and the Tigers a dozen. Lander is in search of their first win of the season and has a good chance this Friday at Rawlins.
“We had some positives, we were able to move the ball, we’re doing good things, we just don’t have the timing and consistency yet,” Burton said. “We have to play lower on both sides of the ball and tackle, its fundamentals.”
Riverton is 19-24 all-time against Douglas in a series dating back 97 years. The important statistic is the recent history of the series with Douglas dominating the Wolverines for almost two decades. Douglas has won the last 10 straight games and 15 of the last 16 with Riverton a 14-13 winner in 2012.
A win in Converse County on Friday puts the Wolverines into the post-season.
LANDER 7 7 0 7 – 21
RIVERTON 8 21 21 0 – 50
LAN – Brayden Baker 63-run (Caleb Andrews kick) 11:11
RIV – Darrick DeVries 1-run (Nick McIntosh run) 2:20
RIV – Ty Sheets 44-pass from DeVries (Hunter Saltsgaver kick) 10:07
LAN – Finn McFadden 99-kickoff return (Andrews kick) 9:49
RIV – DeVries 3-run (Saltsgaver kick) 4:45
RIV – McIntosh 44-pass from DeVries (Saltsgaver kick):21
RIV – DeVries 3-run (Saltsgaver kick) 6:04
RIV – Ty Sheets 65-run (Saltsgaver kick) 2:52
RIV – Jackson Larsen 3-pass from DeVries (Saltsgaver kick) 1:02
LAN – Hunter Velarde 2-run (Andrews kick) 7:04
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