LAKEWOOD — There are no secrets when Conifer plays Evergreen.
The teams have to rock and roll in the trenches and perform in front of a packed house with a belly full of nerves.
That made Conifer receiver Stephen Theiss the ultimate wrinkle Sept. 26.
The leaping, diving hands of glue had five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown as the Lobos stoned the Cougars 21-0 at Trailblazer Stadium.
With Conifer’s ground game meeting stiff resistance, the Lobos had to do what they are not supposed to do well – go to the air.
“That’s what we tell him to do,” Theiss said of quarterback Craig Fowler, who scored on a 3-yard run late in the first quarter. “I’ll go get it if he throws it up there.”
Theiss hauled in a 33-yard touchdown pass to put the Lobos up 14-0 in the third quarter – one of several acrobatic third-and-long conversions for Conifer, which improved to 4-1, 1-0 in the Class 3A Metro League.
“He’s a weapon that we can use,” Conifer coach Larry Fitzmaurice said of Theiss. “If you’re going to try and stop our run, we’re going to throw to him. Tonight we needed him.”
Evergreen slumped to 1-4, 0-1.
The Cougars never found a rhythm offensively and struggled moving the ball against a Conifer defense that has allowed just 11 points in its past four games. The Cougars rarely drove into Conifer territory and never made it deeper than the Lobos’ 27.
“We got to move the ball,” Cougars coach Mike Sellers said. “I know (offensive coordinator Rick) Butler is frustrated right now. We’re making too many mistakes up front mentally, too many penalties that are hurting us in crucial situations.”
It was a black-and-blue night in the trenches as both squads hammered each other up front. No running back had more than 39 yards entering the fourth quarter before Conifer’s Willie Hayes finally found daylight after following his blocker around the left side and peeling away for a 58-yard touchdown run.
Hayes finished with 121 yards on 21 carries and Hunter White picked up 40 on nine carries. Fowler completed eight passes for 121 yards and was intercepted once.
Fowler praised the offensive line for giving him time to roll out and find Theiss.
“I’m really psyched right now,” Fowler said. “I was super nervous before the game.”
The Cougars got a team-best 34 yards on 10 carries from Trent Butler, who also threw an interception, and quarterback Trevor Olson completed 10 passes for 77 yards. Olson had several drops from his receivers but also air mailed his share of throws.
“Everybody on offense (needs to step up),” Evergreen senior Drake Brown said. “We have such a great defensive game, I don’t know why we can’t do it offensively.”
Defense ruled the first two drives before the Lobos marched 65 yards for the opening touchdown. Attacking all sides of the line, the Lobos needed 15 plays and chewed up nearly six minutes off the clock before Fowler kept the ball on the option around the left side.
Conifer kick Kalvin Winter would miss a 27-yard field goal late in the second quarter and Evergreen’s Branden Kullby would kill another drive by intercepting Fowler at the Evergreen 11-yard line.
The Cougars seemed in the midst of their best drive early in the third quarter when Olson had the ball knocked loose from behind while scrambling up the middle. The ball bounced right into the hands of Winter, who ran it back 38 yards before Brown caught him to prevent a touchdown.
The Lobos would punch it in three plays later as Theiss got separation from defensive back Maciah Herbert, caught the ball and dove inside the right pylon for a touchdown.
Conifer wouldn’t wear the Cougars down until early in the fourth when Hayes, who was averaging 3.5 yards per carry up to that point, went for his 58-yard score.
“We tried our best, but in the end, I guess the score is what matters,” Evergreen defensive end Trevor Hoffman said.
The Lobos had just 11 first downs and the Cougars managed just seven, while both teams combined for 11 punts. More often than not, it was three yards and a cloud of finely ground rubber on the artificial turf.
And that looked just fine for the Lobos.
“Ugly wins happen,” Theiss said. “We’re happy to have this one.”
C — Craig Fowler 3 run, 0:32. (Winter kick). C — Stephen Theiss 33 pass from Fowler, 4:06 (Winter kick). C — Willie Hayes 58 run, 8:18 (Winter kick).
Rushing: Evergreen: Trent Butler 10-34, Drake Brown 6-(-2), Trevor Olson 6-(-11). Conifer: Willie Hayes 21-121, Kalvin Winter 4-7, Craig Fowler 9-(-4), Hunter White 9-40, Stephen Theiss 1-(-3). Passing: Evergreen: Olson 10-24-77, Butler 0-1-0-0-1. Conifer: Fowler 8-15-121-1-1. Receiving: Evergreen: Maciah Herbert 2-14, Drake Brown 1-2, Josh Ryon 5-42, Butler 1-7, Branden Kullby 1-12. Conifer: Devin Riley 1-5, Winter 1-16, Theiss 5-104, Hayes 1-(-4).