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Tuesday, November 28, 2023 at 4:06 PM

Riders unkind to Ravens

By Jorge Garcia The Johnstown Breeze

It’s been a crazy year for the Roosevelt football team. Fans have become accustomed to domination. This season’s team gave us a little of that, but also a few nail biters in the mix, and yes, a couple blowout losses.

This season has seemed like a tale of two different teams. A dominating, defending state champion, but also a young team who lost to both Resurrection Christian and Thompson Valley by 20 points.

So, who are they? “I really wouldn’t say we’re like two different teams,” said head coach Lane Wasinger. “We’re just a young team man. I think after that first loss against Resurrection Christian the kids just kind of got caught up in figuring out who they are and where we would end up. It’s a lot of pressure.

“Our team definitely has experience on it, but for all the experience we have we have even more inexperience with all the young guys. They’re just kids and learning and becoming a Roosevelt football player is a lot of pressure. At the end of the day, we just had to get to the playoffs to find out exactly who we are.”

The final week of the regular season had many Rider fans shaking in anticipation. Ranked 8th and with a victory over Mountain View the Riders were assuredly set up for a home playoff game, right?

Wrong! Somehow even with another win under their belt the Riders dropped to 9th in the CHSAA seeding index and destined to go on the road for remainder of the playoffs.

Last Friday night the Riders would open up their run at a second state title in Thornton against the Riverdale Ridge Ravens. A team that had beat Thompson Valley in week four 28-14, a team with a ferocious defense and an offense that featured a dynamic passing attack.

It was important for this team to be who they are, the same team that beat #2 ranked Holy Family back in week five. They needed to become Roosevelt Rough Rider football players.

“All week we had extra meetings getting ready for this game,” senior running back Xavier Ramirez said about game preparation. “And in every one of those meetings our coaches talked about what it means to play for Roosevelt High School. They talked about the expectations and what it takes to be a Rough Rider. “When we as leaders heard that message, we knew we had to step it up and show the young guys just what the coaches were talking about.”

Riverdale Ridge came into the game with one of the highest defensive point differentials in the state. Meaning they didn’t give up many points on defense. It was important to offensively come out firing on all cylinders and punch these guys in the mouth.

On the other side of that coin was the Rough Rider defense. Roosevelt’s young defense has given up some big yardage over the past five games and a lot more points than people are accustomed to seeing from a Roosevelt defense.

The defense answered that question on the first Raven possession when the Ravens marched all the way down to the Rider 25-yard line only to be held to a field goal. “Bend but don’t break” is a familiar saying in football, and throughout the game the Riders lived by that adage, forcing several three and outs and stopping the Ravens on fourth down a few times throughout the game.

“Those guys showed up,” said Ramirez. “You know they’d give up a big third down, but they’d get the next. I got excited, because we have one of the best offenses in the state, and when the defense does their job, it’s going to be a long night for the other team.”

And it certainly was that for Riverdale Ridge. The Riders opened their offense up on their second play from scrimmage with a 64-yard bomb from Bronco Hartson to Trevor Karabensh for a touchdown and never looked back.

The Rider offense looked like it did at the beginning of the season … dominant. It was led by their seniors, the handful of guys that had played in big games before, the guys that knew what it was to be a Rough Rider in the playoffs.

Ramirez ran for a mind boggling 250 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns. He was a wizard out there, weaving through traffic like a race car driver at Le Mans. He not only juked and jived through defenders, but he also broke tackles like a wild steer trying to break free from capture.

“Things just seemed to slow down for me out there,” said Ramirez. “I told myself all week just be yourself, don’t try to force anything, just be yourself and everything will work out, and that’s exactly what happened.”

The offensive line played a big role in Roosevelt’s success, not only for Ramirez but for Bronco Hartson as well.

Bronco had one of those magical type of games everyone dreams about as a kid in their backyard. He ended the game with 144 yards through the air and two passing touchdowns along with 188 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. That’s 332 yards of offense and five total touchdowns.

In total the offense put up 675 yards of offense on a team that claimed to be one of the top defenses in the state, and the offensive line spearheaded that attack.

“All week we were preaching to those guys about all the hard work we did all summer,” said Ramirez. “We had to get back to being that team that was just bullying people early in the year. We saw a little spark of that last week against Mountain View, but this week they brought the heat all four quarters and the results spoke for themselves.”

“This win was really a complete team effort,” Coach Wasinger added. “It’s called complimentary football. The offense, defense, and special teams all worked well together Friday night to help us get the win. When we can play that style and caliber of football, we can beat anyone in the state.”

Lying in wait for the Riders in the quarterfinals are the #1 ranked and undefeated Green Mountain Rams.

The Riders defeated Green Mountain last season in the state semifinals 30-3 in Johnstown. In 2022, The Rams were undefeated and boasted the top ranked defense in the state, giving up only 67 points in 12 games.

It’s been their only loss in two seasons.

Since then, the Riders have very much been rolling around in the Ram’s minds.

“We have been talking about it for a while,” Green Mountain quarterback Blake Weslin told Colorado Preps about facing the Rough Riders. “We want that rematch. We’ve got to get through them to keep going through to state.”

“We were this close last year,” Rams senior captain Austin Contreras also told Colorado Preps. “We still have a bitter taste in our mouth. We want to get back what was taken from us last year.”

This season the Rams enter the contest with more impressive stats than last season, this year boasting the #1 offense in the state averaging 50 points per game and also the #1 defense in the state, only allowing 3 points per game.

Yeah, they are that good. Motivation will do that for you.

“From everything I’ve read they’ve wanted this game all year,” said Coach Wasinger. “I get it man, we’ve been there too. We were in the same mindset last season after having lost in the semis the season before. It’s a tough pill to swallow and when you can point that motivation in the right direction it could be dangerous.”

Nobody is giving the Riders a shot at this thing. Experts around the state are doubting the Riders’ chances. Every prediction written in the press has the Rams winning by two touchdowns or more. Even people in town have been heard around the water cooler saying, “Well it was a good season.” They are the underdog in this game and Wasinger is just fine with that.

“Every championship team has a memorable moment,” said Wasinger. “Last year for us it was Evergreen coming out and basically punching us in the mouth for three quarters. It was a memorable game because we had to dig deep and overcome.

“If we can continue to play complimentary football and dig down deep, we have a chance of being in this game. And if we can jump on them, punch them in the mouth, and put them in an uncomfortable position we are a team capable of beating Green Mountain. One way or another our goal is to make this a memorable game. It could be for us, could be for them, but the Rams are going to remember this game. We’re going to make them feel us.”

The #9 Roosevelt Rough Riders take on the #1 Green Mountain Rams Saturday afternoon at JeffCo Stadium in Lakewood. The action starts at 1 p.m.