No. 8 Ralston Valley knocks off No. 2 Grandview behind brilliant all-around performance from Josh Rillos

AURORA — Josh Rillos has a legacy to live up to.

With his brother Caleb preparing to face Colorado on Saturday at Air Force, and his father, Matt, a Gold Helmet winner in the 1990s, the Ralston Valley senior is just the latest in a line of gridiron stars from the Rillos family.

And he put on a show of his own Friday night at Legacy Stadium.

In a significant early-season top-10 Class 5A showdown, Rillos played a pivotal role in the Mustangs’ 33-21 win over No. 2 Grandview, scoring a pair of touchdowns and providing what ended up being the game-sealing interception.

“It’s awesome just being able to represent the last name Rillos,” he said.  “… My goal for senior year? I wanna win state. We were close to beating Cherry Creek Week 1, and I think we can get ‘em at state, but tonight was a big step.”

The Mustangs (2-1) got off to a hot start on the road with three scores on their first three drives. On the first drive from scrimmage, running back Diano Benallo had a pair of big runs to get the Mustangs deep into Grandview territory, and he scored on a 10-yard draw up the middle.

On the second drive, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Grandview extended the possession, and quarterback Logan Madden made the Wolves pay, as on the next play from scrimmage he found Liam Beattie down the sideline for a 43-yard strike to make it 13-0 midway through the quarter.

The last touchdown of the half for Ralston Valley came on the next possession as Rillos was the target this time on a 33-yard screen play, which capped off a four-play, 93-yard drive.

The Wolves (2-1) were down, but not out and played a smooth, but controlled rest of the half with quarterback Liam Szarka under center. They struck back with a six-minute plus, 15-play drive that extended into the second quarter. On third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, Szarka dropped back to pass but found a seam in the defense and plowed his way into the end zone to cut the deficit to 20-6 with 8:24 left in the half, as the extra point was missed.

Following a pair of Ralston Valley punts, including one which did not leave Mustang territory, Szarka and the offense had time to operate with 3:00 left in the half. It appeared the drive was going to stall out. But on fourth down, Szarka found a cutting wide receiver in sophomore Xay Neto, who was open on a slant route across the middle. Neto took it 33 yards for the score to cut the deficit to one possession.

With Ralston Valley’s last possession ending early, the teams went into halftime with the Mustangs holding on to the one-score lead.

Neither team scored early in the third quarter until Grandview came up with another meticulous and balanced drive. It resulted in a touchdown, as Szarka found Simon Kibbee for a 7-yard reception as the Wolves took a 21-20 lead with 1:50 left in the third quarter.

However, the Mustangs had an answer. They quickly drove down the field with a 55-yard drive which extended into the fourth quarter. On the first play of the quarter facing a fourth-down, Madden found a cutting Rillos for an easy score as the Mustangs re-took the lead at 26-21 with 11:56 to go.

Szarka attempted to keep the Wolves in the game with another long drive and a pair of fourth-down conversions, but on a third try from inside the 15-yard line Grandview came up short and the Mustangs took over on downs.

The Wolves had one last shot, but Rillos came through in the clutch again. On a must-convert fourth down, Szarka found his man, but the senior ran over to make the tackle but swiped the ball away for an interception to all-but seal the game.

Ralston Valley head coach Josh Yannacito said the big-game plays epitomize his work rate.

“He’s a very unselfish player who will do whatever it takes for the team,” Yannacito said. “With our team, we challenge the kids that any given Friday night your number’s going to be called on and we need you to make plays. … He did that tonight.”

Late in the game, Madden scored on fourth-and-goal after he juked a pair of Wolves’ defenders and scored to seal the win.

The Mustangs will face two more top-10 foes on the road, with a dates against No. 3 Regis Jesuit next Thursday, and No. 4 Valor Christian on Sept. 23. Grandview will travel to the Western Slope to face No. 6 in 4A, Fruita Monument.

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