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Danni, Cougars pick off Weld Central in opener

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Evergreen forces four turnovers in shutout victory

By Michael Hicks

 Joe Danni wasn’t completely sure, but the Evergreen senior defensive back thought the Weld Central receiver had the ball. Then Danni ripped it out, turned and ran. Ninety yards later, he was in the opposite end zone. It was that kind of night for the Evergreen Cougars.

 

Danni’s pick six in the third quarter — his first of two on the night — was one of four interceptions recorded by Evergreen as it opened the 2013 season, just as it did in the 2012 campaign, with a shutout victory over Weld Central. This time it was 31-0 on Aug. 23 in front of a lively home crowd at Evergreen High School. Twenty-eight of the Cougars’ 31 points were the result of Rebel turnovers.

“We worked all off season every day,” said Danni, who added a 31-yard interception return for a TD in the fourth quarter. “Coming out for the first game, it couldn’t have gone any better.”

Dating back to the end of the 2012 season, Evergreen has won four straight, including three straight shutouts. The Cougars haven’t allowed a point since the fourth quarter of their 38-32 win over Glenwood Springs last Oct. 19.

“It felt good. I wish they hadn’t driven as far down the field as they did at some points, but when they got down within our 20, we held, we caused turnovers and we capitalized,” said junior defensive end Greyson Lincoln, who was credited with a first-quarter blocked punt and also recorded a sack. “You can’t ask for a whole lot else except to keep them on their side of the field.”

Free safety Keenan O’Hearn tried his best to do that in the first quarter. Twice he picked off Weld Central quarterback Brandon Blackston on identical plays. With the Cougars playing a 7-3-1 defensive alignment — the front 10 playing in the box — O’Hearn’s primary job was to watch the quarterback. He did that perfectly in setting up Evergreen’s first two scores.

“I’ve been watching film all week. We knew by studying them that they were going to run these drives across the middle, and that was my responsibility as a free safety to keep everything in front of me and to make plays on the ball,” O’Hearn said. “I read the QB’s eyes and tried to make a play.”

His first interception set up a 7-yard TD run by Tanner Cassin four plays later. He picked off Blackston two plays into Weld Central’s next possession, setting up Jack Curtis’ 14-yard TD pass to Kipp Nilson.

Matt Hornbecker connected on a 27-yard field goal early in the fourth, but he had a 37-yard attempt early in the game blocked and a 36-yarder late that missed the mark.

For openers, this wasn’t too bad, but there’s always room for improvement. Weld Central had more yards (228-151), more first downs (12-5), and more time of possession (31 minutes, 4 seconds to 16:56), and yet the Cougars dominated on the scoreboard.

“I thought the defense played well, but we certainly did bend quite a bit,” Evergreen head coach Rob Molholm said. “We didn’t give the offense enough plays, because (Weld Central) had a 10-minute drive and an eight-minute drive. In a perfect world, we have more three-and-outs and the offense gets more points. I do think we have a very good offense. I think the defense is quite solid as well.”