LHS Bulldogs open football season with overtime thriller

David Peck
When it comes to pure drama and excitement, it will be hard for the Lovell Bulldogs to top Friday’s 33-27 double-overtime win over the Big Horn Rams, a game that saw the ‘Dogs come from behind three times against the defending state champions in the home and season opener at Kevin P. Robertson Stadium.

“It was a doozy,” agreed Lovell head coach Nicc Crosby. “I feel like Big Horn is probably actually better than they were last year (when they edged Lovell 8-7 in the state title game). They’re a lot bigger up front, and I felt they upgraded at quarterback. So for us to turn the ball over three times and them to not turn the ball over once, and for us to overcome adversity after adversity and find a way to win is a great building block for our season.”

It didn’t look good early as the Rams took the opening kickoff and scored in two plays – a 35-yard pass from junior quarterback Avon Barney to Daniel Walker, followed by a 34-yard touchdown pass from Barney to Gavin Stafford.

With the PAT, Big Horn led 7-0 just 35 second into the game.

“On the first play we got good pressure on the back side, but we lost containment and he (Barney) was able to scramble  and find a guy open,” Crosby said. “Then they got behind us on the second play and made us pay for being out of position. It was a great throw and a great catch.”

Lovell was unable to respond, going three and out on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the game, but the Bulldogs forced Big Horn to go three and out and, following a short Ram punt, drove 46 yards to score.

Runs by senior workhorse running back Jared Mangus and junior quarterback Davin Crosby moved the ball to the Big Horn 34, and Crosby found sophomore wide receiver Owen Walker down the left sideline for a 23-yard gain to the Big Horn 11. Mangus then broke around left end for the touchdown and booted the PAT, tying the score 7-7 midway through the first quarter.

Running the ball effectively behind their big offensive line, the Rams drove 80 yards to re-take the lead, capping the drive with an eight-yard quarterback keeper by Barney. Big Horn led 14-7.

Mangus returned the ensuing kickoff 53 yards to the Big Horn 43, and on the first play of the new series, Crosby found senior Adnan Khan deep down the right sideline for a 43-yard touchdown pass. Lovell tied the game 14-14, still in the first quarter.

“We had seen their cornerback on play-action plays have his eyes in the backfield or on other people,” Crosby said. “Adnan wasn’t wide open, but he was open enough, and Davin dropped it right in there.”

After Big Horn went three and out, the Bulldogs drove 42 yards to the Big Horn 34 before giving the ball up on downs. The Lovell defense forced another punt, and the Bulldogs drove 66 yards to take the lead.

One of the key plays took place on third and seven at the 50. Crosby turned what appeared to be a busted play into a big play, scrambling and hitting Walker for a 44-yard pass to the Big Horn 6. Mangus scored on the next play, and Lovell led 21-14 with 6:23 left in the first half.

Lovell kept the lead into halftime as the Bulldog secondary broke up a number of pass plays to thwart drives, including on a last-minute series following a Crosby interception.

After taking the 14-7 lead, Big Horn failed to score on the next five drives of the first half. Crosby said he and defensive coordinator AJ Montanez emphasized not letting Barney roll out as easily as he did early in the game, which limited his effectiveness.

“Our defensive ends stepped up,” Crosby said, noting the play of Brody Muller and Kyle Wilson. “AJ dialed up some blitzes, and the MIKE (middle) linebackers also got pressure on the quarterback.”

Second half

Two of the first three Lovell drives in the second half resulted in turnovers when the snap from center sailed over quarterback Crosby’s head. The first miscue resulted in a short field and a 19-yard touchdown drive for Big Horn, with Barney hitting Daniel Walker for a seven-yard scoring pass. The PAT missed, leaving Lovell hanging onto a 21-20 lead.

After a short Lovell punt, Big Horn drove 42 yards to take the lead on a six-yard run by Drew Heermann. Big Horn led 27-21 with 4:31 to go in the third quarter. After another snap sailed past Crosby, the Lovell defense rose up to stuff the Rams, forcing a punt.

Lovell then launched the drive of the game, a drive that took nine minutes off the clock on 21 plays from the line of scrimmage. The Bulldogs wore down the Rams, with not only Mangus but Crosby doing damage on the ground on quarterback keepers. Coach Crosby said the Bulldogs took advantage of Big Horn defensive linemen “standing up” and not being at the point of attack, using quarterback Crosby to take advantage of the Ram strategy with keepers.

The Bulldogs moved the ball with running plays until a pair of illegal procedure penalties left the offense facing second and 18. Crosby found Mangus over the middle for a 16-yard gain. Mangus then carried the ball on seven consecutive plays. After Khan and Crosby joined in with runs of their own, Mangus battled into the end zone from a yard out, knotting the score 27-27 with 3:27 to go in the game. All Lovell had to do was convert the PAT, but a missed blocking assignment allowed Big Horn to block the kick, leaving the score tied 27-27.

“That drive was the defining moment (of the game),” Crosby said. “There are so many (key plays), but to me, that was it. We were running the ball and getting procedure penalties. When we had second and 18, I called time out and had them all look at me, and I reminded them of our motto for this year – that we’re determined for greatness. I dialed up a play, Davin hit Jared, and we kept rolling down the field.”

Dramatic win

The game went into overtime, and Lovell got the ball first from the 10. Bulldogs failed to score, and when Big Horn then reached the Lovell 1-yard line in two plays when it was the Rams’ turn, it looked bleak for the Bulldogs. But when halfback Heermann bobbled a direct snap, he pitched the ball to quarterback Barney and Lovell defender Blake Wilson knifed in to hit Barney for a loss.

Barney then tried to hit Walker on fourth and two, and Wilson broke up the pass.

The teams switched ends, and this time Big Horn got the ball first. The Rams went to the passing game, and after Blake Wilson and friends broke up consecutive passes, Big Horn tried a 26-yard field goal, which sailed wide.

Taking their turn, the Bulldogs scored in four plays: a one-yard run by Mangus, a five-yard keeper by Crosby, a three-yard pass to Khan and a one-yard power sneak by Crosby for the winning touchdown. Lovell had the win, 33-27.

Unofficially, Mangus finished with 149 yards rushing on 34 carries, and Crosby carried 18 times for 73 yards as the Bulldogs rushed for 232 yards. Crosby completed 10 of 25 passes for 183 yards, and Owen Walker caught four passes for 95 yards, Khan three for 61 yards and Braxton Felkins two for 11.

Big Horn passed for 187 yards and rushed for 127 yards, unofficially.

Coach Crosby noted that Mangus plays offense and defense and serves as the team’s kicker, punter and top kick returner, noting, “Thankfully, he’s in superior condition. He’s a wonderful tool to have.”

He said Khan was nursing an injury last week and had to miss some practices, but once he’s back at full strength, he should be able to give Mangus a rest on running plays.

Long road trip

The Bulldogs will travel to Cokeville this week for their conference opener. Cokeville fell to Upton/Sundance Friday at a neutral site in Shoshoni, 13-6, but the Panthers are always strong, with Jack Dayton being a talented all-around player, Crosby said.

“Cokeville will keep being Cokeville,” he noted. “Jack Dayton is their do-it-all guy. He’s what Jared Mangus is to us. He does a little bit of everything. They have a lot of young guys stepping into bigger roles. They have to replace their quarterback and linemen who played in the Shrine Bowl.

“They have some holes to fill, but if I’ve learned anything about Cokeville, they’ll find kids who will work their tails off and fill those roles.”

Kickoff in Cokeville Friday is scheduled for 4 p.m.

The Lovell JVs fell to Buffalo 7-6 Saturday in Lovell. Crosby said the lone Lovell touchdown came on a pass from Kaeson Anderson to Owen Edwards. Crosby said other attempts to score fell short, but he was encouraged by how much the young players improved as the game went on.