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Rawlins senior Conner Mendez runs the ball late in Friday's game against Evanston.

RAWLINS – No doubt that when Evanston junior Cade Francom blazed by Rawlins special teams for a field-spanning touchdown on the opening kickoff, the adage “this is going to be a long game” may have popped in a few noggins on Friday night at Outlaw Stadium.

Part of that saying turned out to be true, but not in the sense like it did a year ago, when the Outlaws received a 28-point blowout by the hands of the Red Devils first game of the season.

Instead, Rawlins hung tough, eventually silencing a loud, bone-crunching ground and pound offense instrumented by Red Devils coach James Burton in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter.

Following a desperate, heart-attack inducing last drive, the Outlaws would claim a bold 19-14 victory against Evanston, who last year ended three slots better than Rawlins in Wyoming 3A standings.

It all started with a little more than three minutes left on the clock.

Down 12-14, Outlaws defense – which includes the mammoth-size roadblock that is junior Evann Trevathan and senior Kie Foster, as well as senior linebacker Jason Black – would collapse in the middle and wrap up Evanston starting quarterback Jagger Mitchell for a critical third-down stop.

This eventually led to one of the most head-turning plays of the game, which almost didn’t even happen. Once Evanston turned the ball over on downs, Rawlins was one pass away from throwing away their last-chance opportunity.

Facing 3rd and long deep in their own zone, coach Clayton McSpadden gave senior starting quarterback Quentin Romero, who eventually ended the game with 219 yards passing and one touchdown on 16 of 27 completions, the nod to go deep.

Dropping back in a well-protected pocket, Romero tossed it to senior receiver Connor Mendez, who ran smack dab into what seemed like a forest of Red Devils secondary on a long post route. Mendez, who in a split second had the presence of mind to readjust to a slightly underthrown ball, would soon haul it in for a highlight-reel, 39-yard gain.

Of course, once Mendez caught the ball, he gave fans an anxiety attack as he’d be helped off the field with lower-leg cramps.

“I knew we needed that to keep going and get the W,” Mendez said. He’d eventually return to the game. (But) my calves were cramping. I was in the air and I knew it was cramping.”

This also may’ve shaved a few years off McSpadden’s life.

“(Mendez) went down like his dang back was broken and I was freaking out going over the sideline,” he said. “He’s cramping, so I hit him in the head and told him never to scare me like that again. But that’s something I expect.”

The very next few plays, the trusty tree-trunk legs of senior running back Kadin Forney, who ended the game with 162 yards and two scores on 22 carries, would eventually bash it in head first at the goal line, with only 52 seconds to spare in the game.

“We’ve gotta score, that was my game plan – we gotta score,” McSpadden said of the drive following Mendez’s catch. “The ground and pound was working – we knew that. We had some problems with passing, so we decided that we were going to do some things, let it open up and we’re going to send Kadin to the house.”

McSpadden added, “He is our workhorse. He’s going to do it for us, and he always does.”

But 52 seconds may as well be 52 minutes for Rawlins.

Perhaps scratching the back their minds was Francom, who impressively capitalized the very first time his fingers touched the football.

There was a distinct possibility that he could repeat or, at very least, marginally replicate his now infamous first play of the game. Luckily for Rawlins’ special teams, however, they’d almost surprisingly stop Evanston at their own 22-yard line.

“I was extremely worried,” McSpadden said of the last kickoff. “We made some adjustments and they ran it to a different side than normal. We knew they had a potential to do it and we knew that we had to step up. And our senior Getty Marburger just laid the dang wood on the kid. That’s huge, that’s huge. The seniors are stepping up like crazy, and that’s what we need.”

And in no time, the 220-some-odd-pound Trevathan would scorch through Evanston’s offensive line and essentially pick up the game-winning sack on Mitchell. Any sort of ensuing Hail Mary was then subsequently thwarted by Rawlins.

Earlier in the game, it was different, however. Evanston was able to control vast amounts of ball possession through the likes of Mitchell, who only rushed for 48 total yards but somehow was poised enough to keep gaining first downs.

After Forney scored his first touchdown of the game in the first quarter, Mitchell answered back with a rushing touchdown of his own, putting the Red Devils up 14-6.

The relentless Mendez, however, exploited his skills downfield as he’d later catch his first long ball from Romero for a touchdown. The senior receiver would end the night with 148 yards receiving on seven receptions, including his lone score.

Rawlins defense, meanwhile, accumulated 132 total tackles, with Trevathan taking the lion’s share at 19 – three of which for losses. Meanwhile, Forney wrapped up for 18 tackles and Mendez 16.

Next up, the 1-0 Rawlins Outlaws welcome to Outlaw Stadium Green River at 7 p.m. next Friday.

MsSpadden pointed out a few kinks his team needs to work on this coming week if they intend on going 2-0.

“We just have some things we need to clean up,” he said. “Our blitzing linebackers is our biggest issue right now, and as an O-line and being an O-line coach, we have to figure out a way to do that.”

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