Rampart’s Rand Butler watched a punt sail his way late in the second quarter. Posted around the 30-yard line, Butler caught the ball on a bounce and went to work.
“Just run,” he thought, despite seeing a wall of purple and black Mesa Ridge uniforms in front of him.
He spun to his right and swung around the far side before seeing open field for a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“That was no surprise to us,” said Troy Ward, who coached Rampart to a 28-6 4A Southern victory over the Grizzlies.
Butler’s touchdown gave Rampart a 14-0 lead following a late first-quarter touchdown run by quarterback Cale Cormaney.
It wasn’t the start the Rams wanted, especially after going 3-and-out on their first drive of the game, but strong defensive efforts just before halftime helped Rampart turn the tide.
Mesa Ridge immediately responded to Rand’s punt return with a long return of its own by Desmond Burton down to the Rampart 19 yard line, but the Grizzlies settled for a 35-yard field goal by JJ Dickerson.
Following the kickoff, Mesa Ridge recovered a Rampart fumble and landed in the exact same spot for another chance at the end zone. But for the second-straight drive, the Grizzlies settled for 3.
“Any time our kids can respond to that, those are game-changing events,” Ward said. “It's really exciting, and that carries over to offense and special teams.”
While Mesa Ridge could not gain any momentum on offense, and went the entire first half without earning a first down, the Grizzlies put up a formidable defensive effort against a powerful offense.
“My defense played well and we are doing a nice job,” said Mesa Ridge coach Rob Braaten. “They played pretty tough most of the night, but that’s only a third of the game. There are no excuses, we have to play better football.
“We got the ball in some short field situations and the offense just kind of struggled to put it in, and that is on us as a coaching staff, we have to make sure our kids are prepared for those situations.”
Cormaney, who helped the Rams’ red zone defense keep Mesa Ridge out of the end zone in all four attempts inside the 20, said he believes the defense is his team’s strongest asset.
“I’m confident in these upcoming weeks because I feel like we are bringing it all together,” Cormaney said. “I think this is a good challenge and a step up from the first week and I think it’s really important we had this game.”
Butler, who had his second-quarter punt return in the back of his mind, lined up for another punt early in the third quarter. This time he rushed up to catch the wobbling punt and immediately ran for the far sideline and into the end zone.
“Once you get one, you definitely want it again,” Butler said of his two punt returns.
Cormaney, who had a short rushing touchdown and threw a 14-yarder to Jake Pavlica, said he grew up a defensive player before being thrown in at quarterback.
“I want to be on the field as much as I can and make an impact as much as I can,” Cormaney said, “and luckily I’m in a situation where I'm able to do that.”