PRESTON – Confident and loose – that’s how the Easton Valley football team wanted to play coming into Friday night’s second round playoff game.
And they did.
“We’ve been in this position before,” junior Carson Fuegen said. “We know what it’s going to be. We came up short the last two years against two really good teams, so we just have to come in here and get it done.”
The No. 3 ranked River Hawks rolled to a 60-7 second round victory over 7-1 English Valleys on Friday night, moving onto the 8-man quarterfinals next Thursday night.
“You start the playoffs, everyone is 0-0,” junior Hayden Felkey said. “We didn’t lose, they lost just one but we didn’t look at that loss. Watching film was a big thing because upsets happen and if you lose you’re done. We played our hardest tonight and every night, and it showed.”
This will be the third straight quarterfinal appearance for the River Hawks. They’ve lost the last two seasons in that round.
“You let those thoughts creep into your mind and tell you you can’t do this,” head coach Tony Johnson said. “We’ve been working on our mindset the whole year. Hey, we’re not in it just for a nice record or to get to this game. We want bigger, we want better. We set goals at the beginning of the year and we set goals every week, too. We focus on that.”
This year, mentality has been key.
“We’re pushing hard to get vetter every week,” Johnson said. “This is a fun group of guys to be around and we’re very fortunate.”
Senior quarterback Conor Gruver threw for 278 yards on Friday, good for five touchdowns. Carson Fuegen had 81 receiving yards, and Ayden Huling finished with 66 yards and two touchdowns.
Fuegen also led the offense with rushing yards, finishing with 86 and three additional scores.
“Our blocking was great,” Fuegen said. “Up front, on both ends of the ball, just dominated the line of scrimmage. That’s what I have to give it to.”
That was a key for the River Hawks, who came in without rushing leader Charlie Simpson. Simpson sat Friday’s game nursing a foot injury and hoping to return to the field in the quarterfinal round.
The offense didn’t skip a beat.
“It’s the ‘next man in’ mentality that we try to have,” Coach Johnson said. “Carson Fuegen, he’s just a phenomenal athlete. We brought in Ayden Huling and the offense really didn’t miss a beat and I was really proud. The guys knew it, too, they knew we had to step it up.”
It was a fast start, with Easton Valley scoring 27 points in the first quarter alone and 13 added in the second. They scored all 60 points unanswered, with the Bears putting in their sole score of the night with just over three minutes to play.
“It shows who we are,” Felkey said. Felkey led the defense ith 11.5 tackles on the night, including one sack and three tackles for a loss. “It shows dedication and the hard work we’ve put in. It means a lot to have a goose egg on the scoreboard most of the game.”
Andin Farrell had 8.5 tackles and Ashten Huling had 7.5.
Easton Valley will host the quarterfinal round in Preston next Thursday night. The winner of that game will advance to the state semifinals, played in Cedar Falls at the UNI-Dome.
“We’re on our home field, we get the huge crowd,” Fuegen said. “We just have to come in here focused.
“There are still little things we didn’t do right and we have to hone them up. We’re either getting a team we played before or a team we’ve played in the past so we’ll know what they want to do. We have to really focus in and make sure we’re completely locked in.”