Rocky Mountain hands Eagle first loss

Grizzlies give coach Scott Criner a victory over his former team.

rroberts@idahostatesman.comOctober 12, 2013 

MERIDIAN — There were a lot of emotions that had to be set aside before the Eagle and Rocky Mountain football teams could face off Friday night at Brighton Stadium.

It was a particularly hard job for Rocky Mountain head coach Scott Criner, who spent the previous five seasons as the offensive coordinator at Eagle.

Criner managed to keep his warm, fuzzy feelings for the Mustangs in check, leading the Grizzlies to a 37-27 victory and sole possession of second place in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference.

“I’ve seen those kids grow up, and it’s hard to be competitive with kids that you know and you love and you don’t want to see them fail,” Criner said. “But … when the whistle blew and we’re in the lines, it was football.”

After two straight losses to the Mustangs, the Grizzlies did not share their coach’s sentiment.

Senior quarterback Riley Bradshaw made sure Rocky Mountain (6-1, 5-1) took care of business in a key matchup against its rival. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior completed 15-of-23 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns, handing Eagle a loss that dropped the Mustangs (5-1) from a share of first place to third.

“It was definitely a big rivalry game, and we all knew it,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw helped the Grizzlies continue their tradition of fast starts, completing touchdown passes of 12 and 38 yards to senior receivers Jake Knight and Kekoa Nawahine, respectively, to give Rocky a 15-0 lead in the first quarter.

Nawahine led all receivers with four catches for 84 yards, and added a team-best 11 tackles and an interception on defense.

“He’s an exceptional player. He’s really, really good,” Criner said. “I’m not going to say he’s the best guy in the league, but he’s one of them. When he’s on the field, he’s dynamic.”

Eagle’s first two drives of the game resulted in a three-and-out and a fumble on the goal line, but the Mustangs were able to recover in the second quarter with a pair of scores.

Sophomore running back Bucky Schrader scored on a 1-yard run and then quarterback J.T. Williams scored from 2-yards out to bring Eagle within 21-14 with a little over 2 minutes remaining before the half.

Rocky Mountain made sure it took the momentum into the break.

Bradshaw connected with Elijiah Armstrong — one of six receivers to catch a pass against the Mustangs — on a 29-yarder for a score and a 29-14 halftime lead.

“We always want to kind of jump up on teams and start off quick,” Bradshaw said. “The thing we are really trying to emphasize now is doing that same thing to start the second half.”

Rocky Mountain led from start to finish and survived a second half riddled with turnovers by both teams.

“Four turnovers to two turnovers, that was the difference,” Criner said.

Despite a 37-14 deficit with less than 9 minutes left to play, the Mustangs rallied for two scores.

Williams drove the Mustangs nearly 85 yards in less than two minutes, but left the game and did not return after being hit hard at the end of a 17-yard run. He finished with a team-leading 125 yards on the ground.

Junior quarterback Hunter Floyd — who shares time with Williams — came in and finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.

“We’re in the middle of a crazy situation and you don’t have a lot of time to say ‘woe is me,’” Eagle coach Paul Peterson said. “That is what all this is about. You get tested in a lot of ways, but I believe in the character of my guys. I think we are going to be OK.”

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422,Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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