There’s Wells at home next week, and potentially a trip to Leavitt two weeks down the highway. But after last Saturday’s 28-14 loss to the Hornets – one in which the Phoenix lost out on an undefeated regular season and home field advantage – how they handled Halloween Night against the Falcons was a good barometer of November readiness.
Life is back to normal, with the usual array of big plays complemented by smothering, ball-hawking defense.
No. 2 Spruce Mountain (8-1) hammered out only its second shutout of the season, holding No. 7 Mountain Valley (2-7) to 16 yards in the second half.
Anthony York intercepted a pass and Deonte Ring forced and recovered a fumble. Spruce Mountain sacked Mountain Valley quarterback Ian Austin four times.
“It was different than normal,” senior quarterback and defensive back Peter Theriault said of Spruce Mountain’s approach. “We were a little upset last week. We had a chip on our shoulders.”
One week after throwing three interceptions, Theriault was nearly perfect through the air, completing 6 of 7 for 114 yards. In addition to his 71-yard scoring connection with Ring, Theriault rushed for a 26-yard score.
Brothers Andrew and Austin Darling added touchdowns, as did Matt Vigue, who cranked out 103 yards on his nine carries and went over 1,000 for his senior season.
“We had a really good focus this week,” Spruce Mountain coach Walter Polky said. “The seniors had a direction, and they were pulling us that way the whole week.”
Andrew Darling atoned for an early lost fumble with a 25-yard TD run and a 6-0 lead with 5:34 remaining in the first quarter.
A sack by Chad Richards on third down and a solo tackle by Ring on fourth down stopped the Falcons’ ensuing drive at the Phoenix 30.
After a holding penalty, Theriault fired a quick-out to Ring, who covered the remaining distance. Vigue rushed for the two-point conversion.
“That is a fantastic group of athletes, I’ll tell you,” Mountain Valley coach Steve LaPointe said. “It really is. I think athlete for athlete they’re as good as anybody in the league.”
Mountain Valley also reached Spruce Mountain territory on its next series, but three tackles by Dylan Smith in a four-play sequence stalled the march at the 27.
Vigue rushed for consecutive first downs and Andrew Darling’s block sprang Theriault for 40 yards to set up Vigue’s 3-yard score.
Just before the half, Darling again pancaked a would-be tackler to set Theriault free for a 25-yard score. That immediately followed a 45-yard scamper by Vigue on a counter play.
“The offensive line did great,” York said. “We did awesome. We did all our assignments right, our technique, and we just kept going.”
Josh Mason and Logan Wilhoite combined for 81 yards on the ground in the first half for the Falcons, who reinvented themselves the past three weeks with a power game featuring converted lineman Coyote Freeman as a fullback.
“I thought actually in the first half we moved the ball pretty well. We have to keep it simple. We don’t have that breakaway back. We thought we were going to be a spread team, then all of a sudden we had to go straight ahead,” LaPointe said. “For a little while we made a game of it. It wasn’t bad. I’ll take it.”
Mountain Valley’s defense also enjoyed some moments of prosperity. The Falcons stopped the Phoenix on downs at the 12 after Ring scooped up a fumble on the third play out of the half.
Vigue put Spruce Mountain in business with a 24-yard punt return midway through the third quarter. After Vigue’s apparent touchdown run on the next play was wiped up by a holding call, Austin Darling went 38 yards to the house.
“This week we really focused on our fundamentals,” Polky said. “Tackling, blocking, playing team ball. Trying to flip field position on special teams. Running the ball. Tackling the ball carrier. Playing fundamentally sound.”
York’s eyes lit up when he had the chance to apply the exclamation point on his interception in Mountain Valley real estate late in the game, but the 6-foot-3, 220-pound tackle lost his footing.
“I just saw it, and I jumped, and then I said, ‘Oh crap.’ I was ready to go,” he said.
Dalton Milledge recovered a fumble inside the 10 to stop the Phoenix from punching it in.
Nick Newman and Caleb Gauvin each notched a sack for Mountain Valley, which was outgained 417 yards to 125.
“Our defense, we’ve always emphasized tackling, pursuit and effort,” Polky said. “The seniors, on Monday, decided we wanted to play a certain style, and that’s what we did. They practiced hard and did the little things, and good things happened to them.”