Some say that the calendar date 11-11-11 was lucky, but luck had nothing to do with it Friday as the Lovell Bulldogs simply played good, solid football to dispatch the talented Lyman Eagles 21-13 and win their second state football title and complete an 11-0 season.
The win at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie capped a remarkable run for the Bulldogs, who were ranked number one from start to finish and held up under the pressure to run the table. It’s hard for kids to live up to high expectations week after week after week, with a big target on their backs, but this senior- and junior-laden team was able to win big game after big game.
This team was confident but not cocky, calmly executing on offense and defense with a kind of precision rare in the world of high school football. That’s a reflection on the coaching staff and on the players themselves, especially the 14 seniors and the several juniors who had been through the fire a year ago and were determined to make this season special.
On offense, it all started with a strong line that opened holes for the running backs and protected quarterback Dylan Hultgren. The team also had a stable of talented receivers and a devastating rushing attack and a very efficient passing attack.
Defensively, the Bulldogs dominated at the line of scrimmage and closed plays with hard-hitting linebackers and quick defensive backs. The team forced a remarkable 40 turnovers this season including four on Friday plus a blocked punt and four other stops on fourth down. The Bulldogs had a fifth turnover early in the second half, but a referee’s inadvertent whistle gave the ball back to the Eagles and led to a Lyman touchdown.
It’s difficult to determine the exact formula that makes a team a winner, but this team found the right combination of talent, chemistry, experience and coaching, plus one factor that is hard to quantify but was vital – leadership. This team had leadership in spades. It started with the seniors, who refused to settle for anything other than victory in huge game after huge game throughout the season – wins over then second-ranked Lyman, tough, fifth-ranked Mountain View on the road, third-ranked and undefeated Greybull in Greybull, two-time defending state champion Thermopolis, a strong Kemmerer team, then Burns and Newcastle in the playoffs to advance to Laramie.
With a large crowd looking on, the Bulldogs came out with confidence Saturday and looked well-prepared, marching up and down the field in the first half to lead 21-0. It could have been 28-0 if not for a fumble at the goal line. Penalties hurt in the second half, but the Bulldogs made plenty of big plays to hold off the Eagles and their high-powered aerial attack.
We have been critical of the Wyoming High School Activities Association moving the championship games to Laramie due to the long distance for fans and the oftentimes horrible weather, but it was fun seeing the Bulldogs playing on Jonah Field. Nice weather for the first time in the Laramie site’s three-year history helped a lot, and many fans who couldn’t make the trip gathered at the Hyart Theatre back home Friday to watch the game on TV – a great idea. But what fun a title game in Lovell would have been! Robertson Stadium would have been packed and rockin’.
The Bulldogs proved Friday that they are winners, and this community is proud of their achievements not only because they won but because of how they won. Their sportsmanship awards were numerous this season, nominated by not only game officials but opposing coaches.
And that makes us bust our buttons even more.
Congratulations to the Lovell Bulldogs and coaches Doug Hazen, Craig Winterholler, Bob Weber and Daniel Robertson. It has truly been a season to remember.