The Lovell Bulldogs have survived three “big games” this season, beating then number-two Lyman on Sept. 16, 21-7, then holding on to beat always-tough and fifth-ranked Mountain View Buffaloes the following Friday on the road, 21-19.
Friday, the Bulldogs traveled to Greybull to take on the third-ranked Buffs in their third consecutive “big game” against a ranked opponent, and it was, perhaps, the Bulldogs’ strongest effort of the season as they defeated Greybull 24-13.
“I told the kids after the game that we finally played hard for four quarters,” coach Doug Hazen said. “Our mantra for the week was ‘finish.’ In every game, it seems, we’ve been up at halftime, but we needed to finish the final two quarters and play a complete game.”
The Bulldogs showed their versatility against the Buffs, rushing for 141 yards and passing for 231 for 372 yards of total offense. Greybull rushed for 52 yards and passed for 122.
Hazen noted that quarterback Dylan Hultgren spread the ball around to six different receivers en route to a performance where he connected on 14 of 20 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns, eight first downs and no interceptions.
“Right now we’re pretty lucky,” Hazen said. “We have kids who don’t start that most teams would love to have starting for them.”
The Bulldogs will need that depth, however, as they lost starting senior fullback and linebacker Steven Pickett to a broken leg in the fourth quarter. While running the ball, Pickett’s leg got twisted, breaking his tibia, as well as a bone in his foot. He will miss the rest of the season.
Besides a crisp passing attack, the Bulldogs also ran the ball well, despite starting halfback Dino Collins being a little bit tender with an ankle injury suffered against Mountain View.
“Dino ran hard right away, then got nicked up,” Hazen said. “Then Dimas (Patina) stepped up. Our line continued to block well.
“Kudos to Greybull. They have a very good defensive line. Their D line came hard. We had some breakdowns we have to clean up. They did some twisting and stunting that kind of messed us up.”
Defense dominated early in the game. Lovell took the opening kickoff but went three and out as Brady Shoemaker sacked Hultgren on third down. A nice punt return by Austin Frazier set the Buffs up in Lovell territory, but Lovell senior Collin McArthur ended the threat with an interception at the 3-yard line.
The Bulldogs were unable to drive it out, but Cody Savage boomed a punt some 84 yards to get the Bulldogs out of trouble, and the Lovell defense forced Greybull three and out.
Greybull capitalized on a Lovell fumble on a mishandled exchange from center to quarterback to score the first points of the game. The Buffs drove 32 yards to score. Frazier ran well at quarterback and hit Victor DeCabooter for a 15-yard gain. Jesse Chestnut powered off left tackle for the touchdown. A motion penalty set the Buffs back on the extra point, and Lovell blocked the PAT, leaving Greybull up 6-0 late in the second quarter.
“That was our slowest start of the season, the first time we’ve trailed this season,” Hazen said. “But we put together a long drive to take the lead and didn’t look back. We rattled off 24 straight points.”
Lovell came back to drive 71 yards for a touchdown, converting a fourth-down fake punt along the way on a direct snap to Pickett at midfield that gained the necessary three yards just barely.
“That’s been in our bag for a couple of years now,” Hazen said. “At the time it just felt right to me. I told Steven and he just went out and executed.”
After the fake punt, Mark Grant burst for 15 yards, Collins picked up five and Grant gained six more before Hultgren found McKayan May for 13. On the next play, Collins walked into the end zone untouched. Savage booted the PAT, and Lovell led 7-6 early in the second.
Greybull picked up two first downs on the ensuing series but then had to punt, and Lovell took charge of the game with an 88-yard drive that featured precise passing by Hultgren including a 19-yard dart to Savage, a 13-yard completion to McArthur and a strike to Hunter Hinckley down the right sideline that the speedy senior broke for a 33-yard touchdown. Lovell led 14-6 with 2:23 left in the half, and the Bulldogs threatened again in the final minute when Hultgren hooked up with Hinckley again for a 49-yard gain. A key sack by DeCabooter ended the threat for the Buffs, however, and Lovell led 14-6 at the half.
Lovell seized first control of the game in the second half, intercepting Frazier twice in the third quarter (Hinckley and Mark Grant) and scoring a touchdown to lead 21-6. Greybull appeared to have the Bulldogs stopped, but on fourth and 18 at the Greybull 28 the Bulldogs picked up the Greybull blitz and Hultgren found Savage slicing over the middle. The big junior dove for the end zone and the score.
“That one stung for Greybull,” Hazen said.
The Bulldogs drove 70 yards and nearly scored again early in the fourth quarter, but the Buffs snatched the ball away from Patina at the Greybull 10 after a five-yard gain and after a discussion the referees ruled that his knee had not been down before the strip.
After a short Greybull punt, the Bulldogs drove again but Pickett’s broken leg took the wind out of the Lovell sails, and the Bulldogs settled for a field goal, which Savage nailed from 31 yards to put Lovell up 24-6.
Greybull drove against a Lovell prevent defense to score a late touchdown on a 16-yard pass to DeCabooter, making the final score 24-13.
Patina finished with 62 yards rushing on 15 carries, Mark Grant 57 yards on nine attempts. Collins added 39 yards on 14 carries, Pickett 14 yards on six attempts before his injury.
Savage caught seven passes for 69 yards, Hinckley two for 82 yards, Nathan Grant two for 46, May and McArthur one for 13 each and Pickett one for 8 yards.
McArthur led the team in defensive points with 25 on 11 assisted tackles, one solo tackle, one interception and a blocked kick. Mark Grant and Hinckley recorded 13 defensive points each, Savage 12, Nathan Grant and AJ Montanez 10 apiece.
Bobcats to town
Now 5-0, the Bulldogs can clinch a playoff berth and at least one home playoff game if they can beat the Thermopolis Bobcats Friday night at home. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Robertson Stadium.
The Bobcats have been up and down this season after winning the past two Class 2A state titles. They’ve been tough in convincing wins over Big Piney (48-22) and Kemmerer (42-6), but they have also lost big to Glenrock (29-12), Greybull (31-7) and Lyman (21-7) to stand at 2-3 on the season.
“There’s no doubt Thermop isn’t going to roll over for us,” Hazen said. “If we continue to win the playoffs set up in our favor. We need to win two out of the last three to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“We haven’t been able to beat them (Thermop) in the last few years, and they are two-time state champions. We want to play well at home. We expect to win all of our home games.”
Hazen said the Bobcats will give the Bulldogs a different look, both offensively and defensively, than they’ve seen in recent games.
“They are well-coached, and they have talented players,” he said. “They run a spread offense, which is different and a contrast from what we’ve seen recently. Defensively, they run a 3-5 with a number of linebackers. They try to mix you up, blitzing some guys and giving you different looks.”
By David Peck