‘Reloading’ Bulldogs fall in semifinal to Big Horn

The Big Horn Rams were, arguably, the team to beat in Class 2A coming into the 2013 football season, while the Lovell Bulldogs were said to be in a total rebuilding mode.

But maybe the Bulldogs were just reloading.

Lovell senior running back Dillon Pickett gets a block from junior tackle Zeke Collins (63) as he looks for an open lane against the Big Horn Rams Friday night. Big Horn won the battle of the 2A heavyweights 28-19. David Peck photo
Lovell senior running back Dillon Pickett gets a block from junior tackle Zeke Collins (63) as he looks for an open lane against the Big Horn Rams Friday night. Big Horn won the battle of the 2A heavyweights 28-19.
David Peck photo

Indeed, when the two teams met in Lovell on Aug. 30 for a “week zero” game, the Rams shut out the Bulldogs 21-0 in the varsity-dominated first half and seemed to be well ahead of the younger Lovell squad.

Fast forward nine weeks, and it was the 9-0 Bulldogs hosting the 8-1 Rams in the semifinals of the 2A playoffs, and a play here and a bad bounce there separated the otherwise evenly-matched squads in a 28-19 win for Big Horn.

Lovell finished with 271 yards of total offense, Big Horn 269, and until the final three minutes of the game, each team had scored three touchdowns. But according to Coach Doug Hazen, it was the little things – a missed block here, a dropped pass there and four turnovers – that made the difference in Big Horn heading to Laramie this week rather than Lovell.

“It didn’t come down to one play, it came down to multiple plays,” Hazen said. “We had our opportunities.

“All year they would get down but keep fighting and in every game but this one they found a way to come back and win. The difference in this one was the turnovers. Four to one is hard to overcome. Too many little things added up.”

Hazen said he was proud of his coaching staff and his team for their preparation heading into the game.

“As a whole coaching staff and the players, we did a good job with film study, and our game plan was pretty spot on,” Hazen said. “We were as prepared for that game as we could have been. Even in the loss, it showed there were two pretty evenly matched teams, and had you seen the zero week game, you wouldn’t have said that.

“That shows how much improvement we’ve made since the beginning of the season. The kids gave a great effort. There were five or six plays where the ball seemed to bounce the wrong way and that happens in football sometimes.”

The first half was a tale of long drives and sustaining or not sustaining drives. The Bulldogs came out and did exactly what they wanted to do. Taking the opening kickoff, the home team drove 69 yards in 16 plays, taking seven minutes off the clock.

Dillon Pickett, Calin McArthur and Brandon Teter ran the ball hard, and quarterback Beau Green was efficient, completing three of four passes for 23 yards and a fourth for 33 yards that was called back by a penalty. Pickett punched it in from a yard out, and Lovell led 6-0 and stayed 6-0 when the PAT barely missed.

Then it was Big Horn’s turn. The Rams drove 71 yards to score. Lovell seemed to have Big Horn stopped with fourth and five at the Lovell 24, but Big Horn senior quarterback Connor McCafferty set up a screen pass to Christian Mayer, who broke free down the left side and scored. A referee threw a flag on the play for illegal man downfield, but a colleague apparently overruled the flag and the play was allowed to stand. Big Horn led 7-6 after one quarter.

Lovell drove to the Big Horn 21 as Green effectively scrambled three times for 37 yards, but Green’s third run fell just two yards short of a first down on fourth and 15.

“We saw Beau mature a little bit in this game,” Hazen said. “I was really happy with him. We’ve been pushing him to run more, and he did a good job taking off at key moments and getting some good yardage for us.”

Big Horn drove to the 34, and on second and eight McCafferty found former Bulldog Seth Kite streaking down the left sideline. He snared the ball as a Lovell defender fell and raced to the end zone for a 66-yard touchdown play. Big Horn led 14-6.

Lovell again drove into Big Horn territory, but on fourth and five a dropped pass that was at first ruled a fumble ended the drive.

The Lovell defense picked it up in the second half and stopped the potent Big Horn offense except for a pair of very short field drives. Hazen said the game plan was to mix things up while depending on the defensive backs to play man coverage in the secondary. It worked, for the most part, and Hazen used fast linebackers to both cover receivers and stop the run, moving them around and sending them from different spots so Big Horn didn’t know what to expect.

“It was pretty effective,” Hazen said.

Although an interception set up a short 26-yard touchdown drive (Colter Carzoli two-yard run) that put Big Horn up 21-6, Lovell thwarted Big Horn on five of six other drives while rallying to make a game of it.

A 58-yard punt by Drake Welch buried the Rams back at their own 3-yard line, and a fumble on the next play recovered by Nash Jolley set the Bulldogs up at the Big Horn 16. Three plays later Green hit Hyrum Hopkin in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass. A two-point conversion pass was incomplete, but Lovell was back in the game trailing 21-12.

After Big Horn went three and out, Lovell drove 79 yards to score again as Pickett and McArthur ran hard and Green used the short passing game effectively. Pickett capped the drive with a four-yard power run, shedding tacklers in the process, for a touchdown. Brandon Teter’s PAT cut the Big Horn lead to two, 21-19 with 10:40 left in the game.

Heartbreak was the word for the rest of the game for Lovell, however. After Pickett hit Carzoli for a four-yard loss on fourth and two, the Bulldogs tried a flea-flicker. The play was wide open, but a missed block led to Green being sacked for a 10-yard loss. Green hit Pickett for 16 on a screen pass to the Big Horn 36, but a fumbled exchange between Green and McArthur was recovered by Big Horn, ending the drive.

The Lovell defense rose up to force a Big Horn punt after the Rams crossed midfield, but the punt bounced off returner Bischoff and was recovered by Big Horn at the Lovell 14. Carzoli gained 11 to the Lovell three, then scored on the next play. Big Horn led 28-19 with 3:07 left on the clock, and the Rams picked off Green on the next series to seal the win.

Lovell finished with 152 yards rushing as Pickett gained 81 yards on 18 carries, Green 35 yards on 10 carries, including sacks, McArthur 30 yards on eight carries and Teter six yards on two attempts. Big Horn rushed for 130 yards as Carzoli gained 112 yards on 25 carries.

Green completed 13 of 21 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions. McCafferty completed seven of 12 passes for 139 yards and two TDs.

Hopkin caught four passes for 37 yards to lead the Bulldogs, and Pickett caught three for 18 yards, McArthur two for 23, Welch one for 14, Nic Haskell one for 12, Bischoff one for 11 and Jeff Jameson one for four.

Pickett led the Bulldogs in defensive points with 27 on 11 assisted tackles, four solo tackles, two tackles for a loss and one pass breakup. Nash Jolley had 14 points on seven assisted tackles, one solo stop and a fumble recovery. Aaron Monterde added 12 points, Teter and McArthur 11 each, Hopkin and Bischoff 8 apiece.

The game was the final contest for seniors Chase Rasmussen, Calin McArthur, Hyrum Hopkin, Dillon Pickett, Morgan May and Tyler Tillett.

The Bulldogs finished the season 9-1 and are now 29-3 over the last three seasons. Though frustrated by what could have been on Friday, Hazen expressed pride in his team’s accomplishments this year.

“There are plenty of teams who would be pretty darn happy with 9-1,” he said. “The bar in Lovell is set pretty high right now, which is a good thing. That will continue to be our goal, trying to be state champions. They almost made it, and they did a lot of great things this year.”

by David Peck