The Herb Criner Bowl trophy sat alone on a folding table along the Rocky Mountain sideline Friday, ignored throughout the evening.
But as No. 5 Rocky Mountain wrapped up its 34-9 victory over rival and No. 4-ranked Eagle, the Grizzlies jostled to become the first in school history to touch it, the first to kiss it, the first to pose for a photo with the tribute to the former Eagle and Rocky Mountain football coach.
“He’s been coaching here for a while, coaching both sides, and it just means a lot to have the trophy here and not over there,” Rocky Mountain junior running back Nick Romano said.
Eagle (6-2, 3-1 5A SIC Pod B) won the first Herb Criner Bowl game between the two West Ada School District rivals last year, earning it the right to keep the trophy for a year. But the budding tradition changed hands Friday.
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Rocky Mountain (6-2, 3-1) coach Chris Culig said the first goal he set after getting hired July 31 was to win back the trophy honoring his mentor. Herb Criner, the father of former Rocky Mountain coach and current Eagle Athletic Director Scott Criner, died in April at 81 years old.
“I made it a point we want to win that trophy,” Culig said. “We were focused all week in practice, focused in pregame, probably more focused than we’ve been all year.”
Rocky Mountain dominated from whistle to whistle, racking up 553 yards of offense, including 450 on the ground while averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
The Grizzlies have rotated between option and spread offenses all season. But with guard Keeghan Freeborn, a Boise State commit, back on the field, Rocky Mountain returned to its physical identity.
“We knew he would help us more on offense than on defense because we’ve kind of figured out how to play without him,” Culig said. “When you got a guy that big (6-2, 300) and that good, and you can run the ball inside, you can control the pace.”
As the dive man in the triple option, Romano reaped the benefits of Freeborn’s return, running for 232 yards and three TDs on 20 carries.
“I was just seeing holes from our O-line, and they made them happen all night,” Romano said. “It just makes it fun to run behind them.”
Carter Kuehl finished with 105 yards on a season-high 20 carries, and option quarterback Kyle Van Tonder turned 11 carries into 88 yards and a TD.
The win keeps Rocky Mountain alive in the 5A SIC Pod B championship race. The Grizzlies need to beat Centennial next week and have Eagle knock off pod leader Borah (6-2, 4-0). That would create a three-way tie for first place between Rocky, Eagle and Borah, which would be decided by a coin flip.
Those three have all clinched playoff berths and are battling now for seeding. The winner of the pod gets a first-round playoff bye.
“We’re working for that first-round bye,” Romano said. “It means a lot. We want to get there.”
ROCKY MTN 34, EAGLE 9
EAG — Kaden Williams 27 field goal, 7:23
RM — Nick Romano 1 run (Kyle Van Tonder kick), 4:41
RM — Brayden Hamilton 28 pass from Colby Jackson (Van Tonder kick), 10:16
EAG — Luke Favillo 5 run (pass failed), 4:57
RM — Romano 72 run (kick failed), 4:11
RM — Romano 34 run (Van Tonder kick), 10:26
RM — Van Tonder 19 run (Van Tonder kick), 3:52
RUSHING — Eagle: Devan Bridgewater 6-36, Brennan Larsen 3-14, Kaden Baskett 1-(-2), Nelson Russell 10-16, Luke Favillo 15-52. Rocky Mountain: Kyle Van Tonder 11-88, Zach Irwin 1-(-6), Carter Kuehl 20-105, Tre Page 1-3, Jacob Webster 1-15, Colby Jackson 2-(-9), Duanavan Jardine 1-2, Nick Romano 20-232, Keegan Echevarria 4-16, Will Owsley 2-4.
PASSING — Eagle: Bridgewater 15-29-1 119. Rocky Mountain: Will McMullin 2-5-0 9; Colby Jackson 5-8-0 94.
RECEIVING — Eagle: Larsen 5-20, Nick Williams 2-32, Baskett 3-27, Russell 5-40. Rocky Mountain: Irwin 1-23, Kuehl 2-9, Brayden Hamilton 3-73, Jerrik Lattimer 1-(-2).