Bulldogs pound the Punchers to move into playoff position

David Peck

The Lovell Bulldogs appear to be hitting their stride. After a pair of close losses to powerful 2A Southwest opponents Mountain View and Lyman and a narrow win over Thermopolis for homecoming, the Bulldogs traveled to Sublette County Friday and dominated undefeated and third-ranked Big Piney in a 29-8 victory.

The win boosted the Lovell record to 3-2 overall, 2-2 in the Class 2A West, and sets the Bulldogs up for a playoff berth if they can finish strong in the final three games.

“It was a perfect storm for us,” coach Nicc Crosby said. “We were able to add a couple of guys in Aaron Jones and Zeke Newman. CJ (Lindsay) didn’t have to play as much on defense, so he was really fresh running the ball. We had a good game plan, and the kids executed it really well.”

Crosby said the team also had extra motivation, wanting to play a better all-around game than last year, when the Bulldogs spotted Big Piney 13 points in the first minute, then outplayed the Punchers the rest of the way in a 19-13 loss. Before that game, he said, the Bulldogs were shooting for a second-place conference finish, but the loss “put us in a bad spot.”

“Our focus was very good, and the kids were very motivated,” Crosby said. “We know every game is very critical.”

The Punchers moved the ball on their first possession after receiving the opening kickoff, but after reaching the Lovell 13-yard line, three straight incomplete passes ended the drive. Lovell drove the ball out of the deep end to the 28, where CJ Lindsay took a handoff on a “hidden handoff” draw play and burst 72 yards for a touchdown. Tyler Nichols ran in the two-point conversion, and Lovell led 8-0 midway through the first quarter.

The run was the first of many big gainers for Lindsay, who gashed the Puncher defense for 257 yards rushing on 21 carries, averaging 12.2 yards per carry.

Crosby said the Punchers like to “knife in” to the opponent’s backfield to make plays, so Lovell coaches had the offensive tackles and/or tight end seal the ends with a fullback or pulling guard kicking out the linebacker rallying to the play.

“Our line did a great job getting to the next level so their linebackers couldn’t flow to the ball and make plays,” the coach said. “Aden Mayes had another great game blocking at tight end.”

Crosby noted that the Punchers lost one of their strong defensive ends in the second quarter, allowing the Bulldogs to create a mismatch on that side. On the other side of the coin, the Bulldogs are taking advantage of solid depth.

“Our depth is starting to show,” he said. “Guys are primarily playing one way. Quinn (Lindsay, junior tackle) is really the only one (on the line) seeing significant time both ways. We have a really good rotation going.

“It was a real good team win. Guys did their job. We didn’t allow anything over the top on defense, and we had very few penalties. We got contributions by a lot of different guys. We had a series of plays with Amos (Monterde) and Dallen (Mangus) running at tailback. It was a different look that was effective for us.”

Monterde gained 42 yards rushing on nine carries as the Bulldogs finished with 311 yards rushing on 53 carries.

After the initial Lovell touchdown, the Bulldog defense forced Big Piney to go three and out on offense, setting up the second Lovell score of the afternoon as the Bulldogs got the ball near midfield.

Monterde got the drive going with a 17-yard run, and he added 10 more three plays later. An interference call moved the ball to the Piney 6, and after a run by fullback Myzek McArthur, Cason James scored on a quarterback sneak. Penalties marred the extra-point attempts, but the Bulldogs found themselves up 14-0 in the second quarter.

Bishop Trainor ended the ensuing Big Piney drive with an interception as the Bulldogs put great pressure on Puncher quarterback Kaden Raza.

“Taking away his first read was important,” Crosby said. “If it’s not there he tends to get nervous. Our pass rush was good. We not only put on pressure but also contained the quarterback from escaping the pocket and getting yards on the ground.”

Trainor returned the interception to the Big Piney 35, and the Bulldogs drove to the Puncher 1, but on fourth and goal James’ quarterback sneak was stopped. The Punchers went three and out, but time ran out before Lovell could mount another drive.

Second half

Lovell went three and out on the first series of the second half, and Big Piney put together a drive that carried all the way to the Bulldog 2, after which three quarterback keepers netted only one yard with a strong Lovell goal line stand.

Lovell then drove 99 yards to put the game on ice. Lindsay was unstoppable as Lovell ran to the edge time after time, then would mix things up with a counter inside. Crosby noted the strong Lovell blocking on the outside.

On first down at the Big Piney 32, Lindsay smashed through a tackle at the line of scrimmage and burst 32 yards for a touchdown as his teammates executed blocks at the line of scrimmage and downfield, as well.

“We had so many unsung heroes (throughout the game),” Crosby said, “like Bishop Trainor blocking on the edge. He has an uncanny ability to (get a block) in the right place at the right time.”

Nichols ran in the two-point conversion again on a swinging gate play the Bulldogs installed this week and led 22-0 early in the fourth quarter. A blocked punt on the next Lovell series led to Big Piney’s only touchdown of the game on a three-yard pass play, and Lovell responded with a 59-yard drive to seal the victory as CJ Lindsay continued to slash and dash, eventually scoring on a 13-yard run. This time, the Bulldogs kicked the PAT, and James’ kick was true, putting Lovell up 29-8, the final score when the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Wranglers to town

Now tied for fourth place in the conference standings with Cokeville, the Bulldogs will host the Pinedale Wranglers Friday at 6 p.m.

Pinedale is 1-4 on the season with the lone win coming against Kemmerer, 38-24, and losses to Glenrock, Big Piney, Cokeville and Mountain View.

“They’ve struggled with some injuries this year, but when they’re healthy their triple option has been tough for teams to stop,” Crosby said. “Defensively, they create a lot of problems when they’re healthy. Their kids play really hard.

“Number 9 (Colby White) is a playmaker on both sides of the ball. He runs hard and has a good nose for the ball. They’re getting healthy. We’re getting them at full strength. They trailed Mountain View only 14-6 at the half. I think we’ll have our hands full. Coach (Clay) Cundall does a great job.”

LHS will once again be requiring tickets to attend the game. The free tickets are available at the high school office, as well as the district office.