COTTONWOOD – The West Valley seniors celebrated one final time on The Pasture, their beloved home of so much sweat and so many more victories over the years.
They got the last one, a 21-7 triumph over the Foothill High football team on Friday night, thanks in large part to the newest Eagle among their ranks — Holden Gilbert.
The diminutive standout, enjoying his only season as an Eagle after his family moved from Oregon during the pandemic, showed that as long as the ball got in his hands, good things happened. It didn’t even matter if it was on offense, defense or special teams.
“Holden makes me look good,” first-year varsity head coach Lenny Ehn said.
Gilbert also made his teammates feel good with his fourth 100-yard rushing game for the Eagles in as many games on this spring season that salvaged after the normal 2020 season was scrapped like so much was due to COVID-19.
He finished with 120 yards on 15 carries that included a 63-yard touchdown sprint that finally gave West Valley (4-0) an advantage of a two-score comfort with 7:04 left in the game against the Cougars that appeared primed for the surprise early on in the contest.
But Foothill (3-2) couldn’t cash in a pair of scoring chances in the first quarter thanks to Eagles senior Ashtin Wacker intercepting a fourth-down pass in the end zone and then a field-goal attempt from 36 yards was wide left.
“Too many drops. Way too many drops. Too many drops,” Cougars head coach Joey Brown said. “We asked a lot of our run game, and our run game did a lot for us. Just too many drops.”
That left the Cougars counterpunching with West Valley, and the best pound-for-pound fighter wore a West Valley uniform.
After a scoreless first quarter, Gilbert took a screen pass from Noah Mason and stopped short of the sideline as he waited for three Foothill defenders to go past him as he scooted 37 yards to the Foothill 19-yard line.
Four plays later, Mason scored on a 2-yard TD run with 7:55 left in the half. With Gilbert providing the extra point, the Eagles led 7-0.
Foothill, with its own talented tailback, answered in kind. Cooper Laloli took a short pass to the right from Davis Smith and cut all the way across the field and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone for a 70-yard TD, tying the game at 7 with 6:04 before halftime.
The Eagles were just getting started. So was Gilbert. On a second-and-18 from the West Valley 37, the ball was dropped on the way to a draw play to Gilbert. He calmly scooped it up and gained 12 yards of what could have been a broken play.
That helped the drive end with a Mason 3-yard TD pass to Anthony Rogers on fourth-and-goal from the Foothill 2 while 22 seconds remained in the second quarter. West Valley would take that 14-7 advantage into the break.
Gilbert, who looks lighter than the self-reported 170 pounds but plays so much bigger, still had much more to give.
He hauled in an interception on fourth-and-6 from the Foothill 45 when the Cougars were within one score with about 8 minutes left in the game, clinging to that same 14-7 lead.
Two plays later, he sprinted to his 63-yard TD, providing the cushion the Eagles had been seeking.
One last highlight sealed the victory. West Valley punter Hayden Boyes couldn’t handle a short, low snap. He took off with the ball, but he was stopped short on fourth-and-5 before he lateraled the ball to Gilbert – or fumbled it, depending on your point of view as teammates on the sideline debated.
“That was a lateral,” Gilbert said, smiling. “Definitely, I don’t know, not planned. He just pitched it to me as he was going down.”
He gained 6 yards on fourth-and-5, and the Eagles ran the clock out from there.