Friday night’s homecoming game against the Thermopolis Bobcats was a thriller for the Lovell Bulldogs – at least for their fans. For coaches, it was more of a hair-pulling affair, especially in the first half.
By the time the homecoming royalty was introduced at halftime, the Bulldogs trailed 27-13, but they outscored Thermop 20-0 in the second half to win 33-27.
Thermop came at the Bulldogs with their power running game, using a wing T and also some double wing formations, but it was a couple of trick plays through the air that caught the Bulldogs off guard in the first half, Coach Doug Hazen said.
The Bobcats scored on a 62-yard run by Tyler Cornwell early in the first quarter and booted the PAT to lead 7-0. Hazen said Cornwell got outside on a sweep left against the Lovell 5-3 defense and went the distance.
Lovell went three and out on their first series but also stopped the Bobcats. On fourth down, the Thermop center snapped the ball over the punter’s head, and as he tried to field the bouncing ball, he was hit by junior end Drake Welch. The ball skittered into the end zone, where Welch fell on it for a touchdown. The PAT failed, but Lovell was close trailing 7-6.
Thermop put together a long drive late in the first quarter, converting a pair of fourth-down situations in the process, and on the first play of the second quarter Choc Maddock scored on a one-yard run to put the visitors up 14-6 (PAT good).
“We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot (defensively),” Hazen said.
Lovell answered again on a four-yard touchdown run by Dillon Pickett, and with Brandon Teter’s PAT the Bulldogs trailed 14-13. Hazen said quarterback Beau Green completed a 24-yard swing pass to Pickett on fourth down to keep the drive alive and a slant to Hyrum for five yards during the series.
Then came two plays that frustrated Hazen, who also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator. On fourth and 10, the Bobcats ran a toss pass as the quarterback, Maddock, tossed a lateral to former quarterback, now running back, Kaden Haun, and as Lovell defensive backs froze and looked into the backfield, anticipating a run, Cornwell got behind the defense for a 38-yard touchdown play. Then the Bobcats ran the same play again late in the half, this time for 30 yards, and Thermop led 27-13 at halftime.
“They duped us twice on the same play,” Hazen said. “At halftime I was definitely frustrated. I told them, ‘I’m so frustrated that I could scream at you, but I’m not going to do that. We’re going to turn this around and let’s make some adjustments and get back in this thing.’”
The defensive adjustment the Bulldogs made was to switch from a 5-3-3 defense to a 4-5-2, having four linemen and five linebackers to cover both the inside running game and the outside sweeps. The two safeties were to cover any receivers who happened to come their way.
“They’re not much of a throwing team, so we kept our safeties deep and told them to guard whoever comes out,” Hazen said. “And with that Michael Brightly gets two interceptions. The first one jump-started our comeback.”
Thermop actually stopped the Bulldogs on the first drive of the third quarter, Hazen said, but then Brightly stepped in front of a Maddock pass and returned it 52 yards to the Thermop three. Pickett took it in from there, and although the PAT failed, Lovell was back in it trailing 27-19.
Lovell scored again early in the fourth quarter when Green hit Pickett out of the backfield for a 12-yard touchdown pass. A try for two failed, but Lovell was close trailing 27-25.
On the critical, go-ahead drive, the Bulldogs executed a fake punt on fourth down as Pickett moved the chains after a direct snap from center. Welch also gained 20 yards on a reverse and Pickett capped the drive with a three-yard run. Pickett’s two-point conversion run left Lovell up 33-27 with 6:12 left, and Brightly’s second interception of the half sealed the victory.
It was certainly a tale of two halves. Thermop gained 202 yards rushing in the first half but only 33 yards in the second half, adding a total of 106 yards passing. Lovell rushed for zero yards in the first quarter, 57 yards in the second and 138 yards in the second half. Green passed for 42 yards.
Hazen said the stats are misleading because the Bobcats often executed on-side kicks, leaving the Bulldogs with short fields to work with as they often started drives near midfield.
“We moved the ball well in the first half but fumbled once and threw one interception,” Hazen said. “Then the momentum got on our side and we just rode it.”
Pickett rushed for 111 yards on 26 carries, Welch 58 yards on three attempts. Green completed 4 of 13 passes for 42 yards.
Defensively, Welch and Brightly led the Bulldogs with 12 defensive points each. Nash Jolley had 10 points, Aaron Monterde and Cade Bischoff 9 points apiece.
Hazen said it’s not always pretty, but the Bulldogs are finding ways to win.
“They’re winning, I’ll give them that,” he said. “They don’t give up. That’s their best attribute. They keep fighting. That’s all you can really ask from the kids.
“They’re playing hard and are one of two 2A teams that doesn’t have a loss, so they’re doing something right.”
Hazen said the win Friday combined with other results in recent weeks has left the Bulldogs in sole possession of first place in the 2A West, noting that they will host two playoff games (if they win the first game), no matter what happens in the final two games of the regular season.
But the Bulldogs still have work to do, the coach said, and it begins with a home game against the Kemmerer Rangers this Friday at 6 p.m.
“We just need to continue to get better at what we do,” Hazen said. “Over the next two weeks it’s not about the other team, it’s about getting better and getting ready for the playoffs.”
The Bulldogs are mostly healthy, Hazen said, noting that junior linebacker/safety Cade Bischoff returned to the lineup against Thermop.
Kemmerer is 0-6 and is another team that will pound the ball in the running game with a double wing formation. The Rangers did play well last Friday at home, falling to Greybull by only 12 points, 26-14.
by David Peck