It was hard for the Roosevelt to find any joy on the same field a week ago. There, at Howard Wood Field in a game that decided the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the Rough Riders fell short against Washington in a 10-7 double-overtime loss.
Licking the wound from that heartbreaking defeat would have been hard enough, but the loss of star quarterback Jett Thune compounded. His season ended at the close of Roosevelt’s first possession on account of a broken tibia.
Since then, Thune’s path has been set: Two weeks in a soft cast, three weeks in a hard cast, two weeks in a walking boot, and then rehab. For now, his role is that of energizer, encourager and senior leader.
Taryn Christion did the same last year, when an injury ended his season and switched his view from five yards deep in the shotgun to the sideline.
Thursday night in the ‘11AAA’ playoff opener against Rapid City Stevens, Thune – like Christion did last year – watched with pride as his replacement made plays.
Torren Devericks stepped in for Thune and the Rider offense didn’t skip a beat, while the defense was its usual self. Stevens added a late touchdown against Roosevelt reserves, but the Rough Riders prevailed with ease 34-17.
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“I watched Torren quite a bit,” Thune said at halftime, “and I think he’s been doing a really good job. He’s got a lot on his plate right now, but he’s throwing the ball really well.”
The Riders were committed from the outset to get Devericks in a rhythm. The biggest difference between his skillset and Thune’s is mobility, so the Riders emphasized the junior’s strong arm. Early on, that came in the team’s patented quick screens.
“Easy completions are huge and keep your offense in a rhythm,” Thune said. “The short completions are good for his confidence.”
Devericks threw a 7-yard dart to a slanting Jamal Albousafi for the game’s first score, and a second-quarter quick screen to Damareio Hester went for a 27-yard touchdown to put the Riders ahead 28-0.
Sandwiched between those touchdown passes was a 22-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by linebacker Sean Powell, and a 13-yard scoring run by Tyson Jahn up the middle on a play where the junior back was never touched.
“If we give Tyson room to run, he’s pretty quick through the middle, and he’s showed that he’s got some toughness,” said Coach Kim Nelson.
Jahn sparked the Riders run game with 15 carries for 144 yards, but most of the damage came through the air.
Devericks retired late in the third quarter after a 17-yard dart to Nathan Varns, which gave Roosevelt its final score and a 34-3 lead. For the game, Devericks was 11 for 15 for 195 yards and no interceptions.
I thought he played very well, made good decisions and threw the ball very well,” Nelson said. “Our receivers did a nice job blocking on the edge and catching the football, and I thought our O-line gave them a lot of time to throw the ball.”
Rapid City scored a pair garbage-time touchdown when Grant Youngblood rumbled in from two yards and later took a pitch 89 yards for a score, but the Riders were never in any danger.
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After this game, joy wasn’t hard to find. Neither was confidence in Devericks to get the job done.
“We have all the faith – 100 percent sure – that Torren will lead us to the Dome,” Hester said. “Every single pass, no doubt, whether it’s deep, short, in-between – he’s going to get it done.”
Hester led the Riders with three catches for 63 yards and a score, while Jahn caught three passes out of the backfield for 43 yards. In addition to his touchdown grab, Albousafi beat the one-on-one coverage (and a hold) for a 35-yard gain late in the half.
The Riders weren’t tentative in taking their shots, but had the short game and run game to set things up. And against O’Gorman next week, the difficulty ramps up significantly.
“It was as good as we could have hoped for Torren in his first game, so I was really happy for him,” Nelson said. “But things get tough fast. Really fast now. We’ve got to get back to work, but I feel good about where we’re at.”
As for Devericks, who was showered with congratulations from teammates and students in the post-game glow at Howard Wood, Thursday’s success wasn’t something brand new.
“This is what I worked for all summer,” Devericks said, “just the chance to get in there and play.”