Bulldogs win for homecoming, stop Rich County 24-14

David Peck
A team always wants to defend its home turf for homecoming, and the Lovell Bulldogs did just that Friday night, stopping a tough Rich County, Utah, squad 24-14 at Robertson Stadium.

Though a non-conference game, the win kept momentum building for the Bulldogs, who have now won three straight after a loss at Cokeville on September 8.

“They’re good, and they gave us some stuff to work on heading into the game against Mountain View,” coach Nicc Crosby said. “It was a beautiful night with a great atmosphere. The fans were fantastic. It was great to see those bleachers full.”

The win combined a solid defensive effort that created three takeaways and a fourth-down stop with an offense that sustained drives, when needed, to keep the Rich Rebels off the field with some long drives.

“I thought our defense had a really good game,” Crosby said. “We gave them a short field a couple of times and did a good job limiting what Rich likes to do. We were decent in our assignments against their option.

“There’s certainly room for improvement heading into the Mountain View game. We need to be more consistent there. I was pleased with the turnovers we were able to get. That’s part of the reason our numbers were down offensively. Our defense gave us great field position to work with throughout the game.”

First-half battle

The Bulldogs had a short field to work with right off the bat but couldn’t take advantage. After stopping Rich three and out and stopping a fake punt, Lovell had the ball at the Rich 33 and drove to the 1 but couldn’t punch it in.

The Lovell defense got the ball right back on an interception by Jared Mangus, who returned the pick 24 yards to the Rich 11. Given the ultimate short field, the Bulldogs scored in three plays, with fullback Braxton Felkins powering in from six yards out. Mangus booted the PAT, and Lovell led 7-0 with 3:39 left in the first quarter.

Rich drove into Lovell territory, reaching the Lovell 25 before Adnan Khan picked off Rich quarterback Carter Hoffman. Unfortunately, Rich returned the favor on the very next play when a Davin Crosby pass got batted into the air and picked off.

This time Rich County had the short field and drove 18 yards in six plays, with Noah Parry scoring on a six-yard run. The ensuing PAT tied the score 7-7 with 8:30 to go in the first half.

After Lovell went three and out on a penalty filled series and then gave up a long run to Hoffman, Crosby came down out of the crow’s nest to issue some “encouraging words” to his squad. The team responded and forced Rich to give up the ball at the Lovell 23, then drove 72 yards in the waning moments of the half to score on a last-second field goal by Mangus, giving Lovell a 10-7 edge at the half. Crosby connected with Felkins for 12, Mangus for 11, Owen Walker for 11 and Khan for 19 during the hurry-up offense drive.

“It’s nice that we can get a field goal when we need it,” coach Crosby said, adding about his talk to the team, “There was a stretch where our body language was telling. We were disengaged and weren’t communicating well defensively. It didn’t feel like we had a lot of urgency on the field. But our energy picked up quite a bit.”

Taking control

The Bulldogs seized control of the game early in the second half by scoring on the first two possessions of the half. Lovell drove 58 yards in six plays including a 13-yard pass to Blake Wilson, a 16-yard dash by Mangus, a 14-yard hookup with Khan and three straight runs by Mangus, who cut back on a three-yard run to reach pay dirt. Lovell led 17-7.

After a Rich County punt, the Bulldogs drove 68 yards to score again as Crosby mixed short passing plays with running plays to keep Rich County off balance. Mangus then beat a defender around left end and dove to the end zone for his second touchdown, then booted the PAT to put the home team up 24-7 late in the third quarter.

“We picked up the pace a little bit, and once we got them in a look we liked, with our tempo it was hard for them to make adjustments,” Crosby said. “Us going quick prevented them from playing fast (and attacking).

“Our perimeter blocking was really good. We saw some nice gains by Blake, Adnan and Jared, and they blocked for each other.”

Rich attempted to get back into the game, taking the ensuing kickoff and driving 50 yards to score, picking up a key first down on fourth and one at midfield and later on fourth and two at the Lovell 13. Hoffman also connected on a 23-yard pass during the drive, which ended with a nine-yard scoring pass from Hoffman to Jaden Desch, making the score 24-14 with nine minutes left in the game.

Lovell ate some clock on the next series before giving the ball up on downs with 4:22 left at the Rich County 32. Hurrying to score, Hoffman hit Drake Weston deep for a 46-yard gain, but Lovell sophomore Matthew Newman ended the drive with Lovell’s third interception of the game, sealing the win.

“To their credit, they did a good job of getting their quarterback out of the pocket and using one of their receivers to seal the edge so he could get a clean look at some throws,” Crosby said. “He hit some passes in tight windows. I felt we made good adjustments with our coverage and pressure. They just made some tough plays on their last scoring drive.”

Final statistics were close. Lovell rushed for 166 yards and passed for 128, with Crosby connecting on 13 of 22 attempts. Rich County rushed for 155 yards and passed for 125, with Hoffman going six for 12 and Weston one for one.

Mangus led the Bulldogs with 107 yards rushing on 22 carries, and Crosby added 44 yards on 11 carries, Felkins 15 yards on four attempts. Khan caught six passes for 69 yards, Felkins two for 18 yards, Wilson two for 17, Walker one for 11, Mangus one for 11 and Newman one for 2 yards.

Mountain View

The road to a home playoff game runs through Mountain View for the Bulldogs, who almost certainly must beat the Buffaloes to host a first-round playoff game, having already fallen to Cokeville.

Mountain View is 5-0 on the season, 4-0 in the 2A West, with wins over Wheatland 38-0, Rich County 24-6, Thermopolis 14-0, Lyman 31-8 and Cokeville 17-6.

Crosby said the Bulldogs must buckle down on defense in order to be successful on the road Friday.

“Our tackling in space is going to be critical this week,” he said, “We did a decent job of is this week, but our defensive backs and linebackers are going to need to defeat blocks and break down, wrap up and tackle in space. Mountain View thrives on getting the ball outside, making people miss and using their speed to get chunk plays.”

Crosby said Mountain View has adapted from being a pass happy team to being more run heavy, including heavy sets, but he said quarterback Justus Platts is a strong enough passer to make a defense respect the air game.

“He’s as dynamic as any player in the state,” Crosby, adding that Mountain View also has talented players in Jayce Schultz and Carson Eardley.

He said Mountain View employs an aggressive 4-4 defense that has the reputation as the best defense in the state.

“Overall, they have a lot of team speed but good size up front, as well,” Crosby said.

Kickoff in Mountain View Friday is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.