In what was easily the best game of week one of the playoffs in Class 2A, the Lovell Bulldogs went toe to toe with the undefeated and top-ranked Big Horn Rams Friday night and nearly pulled off a major upset, leading twice before falling 23-12.
The Bulldogs and Rams are familiar foes, almost annually meeting in the playoffs and this year opening the regular season with a game in Lovell. The coaches go back a few years, as well, so the systems are pretty much the same. It’s just a matter of executing against the other team, Coach Doug Hazen said.
“I had a tremendous amount of film on them and knew what they did,” Hazen said. “But when you’re a good team you just do what you do…We had a pretty clear idea of what their defense would do for us, what their scheme would be. They have a pretty clear idea of what offense we run.
“Defensively, we made some changes this year, but it helped that we’re really familiar with them.”
Hazen said the Bulldogs came in loose as the underdog.
“We kind of played with less pressure,” he said. “They were supposed to win. They were number one.”
Hazen said the Bulldogs used their base 4-4 defense but moved the inside linebackers inside a bit to stop the run.
“We did a really good job of that,” Hazen said. “Our defensive line and inside linebackers had a real good effort across the board. We were able to stop them, and they were not able to do what they wanted. We blitzed and put pressure on their quarterback, too. We got to him a couple of times, and that rattled them a little bit.”
Back and forth
The Lovell defense came up big early in the game. Big Horn picked off quarterback Beau Green on the first play from the line of scrimmage, but the Lovell defense held the home team to a field goal.
“We thought they would come out in a different coverage,” Hazen said. “We called a slant pass, but instead of rushing, their linebacker dropped underneath the slant and made a nice play.
“That was encouraging (holding Big Horn to a field goal). We were able to turn a negative into a positive.”
Lovell responded with a touchdown when Green lofted the ball to halfback Brandon Teter on a screen pass and the sophomore dashed 45 yards to pay dirt. Hazen said Green set up the play perfectly and lobbed the ball to the left side as Big Horn defenders charged forward. The “guys up front” did the job blocking, he said.
The two-point conversion failed, but Lovell led 6-3 with 7:25 to play in the first quarter.
“As far as I know, that’s the first time all season that Big Horn has been down in a game,” Hazen said.
Green intercepted Big Horn quarterback Collin Powers and gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Big Horn 10, but the Rams held the Lovell offense out of the end zone.
“If we could have scored there, our defense was playing well enough that that would have put a lot of pressure on them,” Hazen said.
Big Horn scored midway through the second quarter to take a 10-6 lead on a five-yard run by Ryan Kobielusz, but Lovell responded with a 43-yard run by Cade Bischoff to go back on top 12-10 with three minutes left in the first half.
“It was on fourth down (fourth and two) and was something we’ve known, that if you call a dive to the correct side we knew there would be a crease,” Hazen said. “If we could find the side we wanted, we could exploit that. He popped it and was gone.
“That was huge that our kids answered back. Unfortunately, they were able to go down and score one more time.”
Big Horn answered the Lovell touchdown with one of their own as Kerry Powers scored on a three-yard run. Big Horn led 16-12 at halftime.
Defense dictated play in the second half for both teams, and once again the Bulldogs came to play, spurred by their first-half effort.
“At halftime we encouraged them to continue to believe that we deserve to be here,” Hazen said, “but we had to go finish it. To me, it came down to the first and fourth quarters. We already proved it in the first, but during the year our inability to finish the game in the fourth quarter was why our record was (4-4).
“And ultimately that’s what happened. We made that extra mistake and they got the ball deep in our territory. They outscored us in the fourth quarter 7-0. If we outscore them 7-0 we win the game by three. We had to beat them in the fourth quarter and we couldn’t quite do it.”
Christian Mayer scored the game-clincher for Big Horn on a 12-yard run with 5:12 to play in the fourth quarter, and Big Horn (9-0) moved on to the second round of the playoffs to host Wheatland Saturday at 2 p.m.
But in the end the Bulldogs knew they had given it their all, Hazen said.
“I was proud of our kids,” Hazen said, noting that either team could have advanced to the state semifinals or finals and people would feel “both teams deserved to be there.”
Statistics were close. Lovell finished with 137 yards rushing and 82 passing, Big Horn 167 yards rushing and 100 yards passing.
Bischoff led Lovell with 72 yards rushing on nine carries, and Teter added 46 yards on 17 carries. Green completed nine of 26 passes for 82 yards and one touchdown, with three interceptions. Teter caught three passes for 50 yards, Tristen Snyder two for 16 yards, Dylan See two for 9 yards, Drake Welch one for 5 yards and Britton Woody one for 2 yards.
Green led the team with 16 defensive points, and Nash Jolley added 14.5 points, Bischoff 13, See 12, Rego Moreno 11.5 and Riley Abraham and Aaron Monterde 11 each.
The game was the final contest for seniors Dylan See, Tristen Snyder, Jaymond Thompson, Jaccob Mickelson, Cade Bischoff, Aaron Monterde, Daniel Strom, Garet Fowler, Erik Ferbrache, Nash Jolley, Zeke Collins, Payton Hetland, Drake Welch and manager Paul Montuy.
By David Peck