Mayes field goal boosts Bulldogs to key win over Thermopolis

By David Peck

The Lovell Bulldogs slugged it out with Thermopolis Friday night for homecoming, and after the two physical opponents traded blows for nearly 48 minutes, it was the strong and accurate leg of a kicker that propelled the Bulldogs to victory.

Senior Aden Mayes split the uprights to break a tie and give the hometown Bulldogs a 23-20 win. He then picked off Thermop quarterback Gavin Shumway to seal the win, Lovell’s first in conference play.

Lovell coach Nicc Crosby said the Bulldogs had a good week of practice after a pair of close losses to Mountain View and Lyman, and that work translated into a strong game.

“I was really encouraged to see our mentality from practice this week carry over into the game,” Crosby said. “Our offensive line performed in practice the best we’ve seen, and it carried over. We had very few missed blocking assignments. We did a better job getting to the second level, and our pad level was much better. Our communication and chemistry was much improved, as well.”

The Bulldogs rushed for 242 yards, unofficially, on 50 carries, averaging nearly five yards per carry against a stout Bobcat line led by 330-pound Remington Ferree.

“We intended to establish the run game,” Crosby said. “We put in a couple of different looks we thought would be successful, a pro formation and a double wing formation. We just wanted to give our runners a little bit of daylight and a chance to make some plays. They’ve already shown they can break tackles if they get past the initial line of scrimmage.”

Senior fullback Myzek McArthur rushed for 119 yards on 17 carries, and fellow senior halfback CJ Lindsay added 83 yards on 18 attempts. Junior slot back Amos Monterde gained 27 yards on four carries.

“What allowed Myzek to have a good week was that the line allowed him to get to the next level; he has really good vision, and a single tackle wasn’t going to bring him down.”

McArthur and Lindsay had success to the outside, so when the Bobcats started to spread out a bit to better handle the off-tackle play, the Bulldogs powered up the middle, including physical quarterback Cason James.

“We knew the middle had to be a little bit softer,” Crosby said, noting that strong running made the passing game more effective.

“We used play-action when they were fighting so hard to stop the run,” he said.

Power running

The Bulldogs took the opening kickoff and kept the ball for more than 10 minutes, running 17 plays, 16 of them runs, before McArthur followed a wall of blockers into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run. Mayes booted the PAT, and Lovell led 7-0 with 1:36 left in the first quarter.

McArthur and Lindsay ran well on the drive, and Monterde converted a key fourth-and-13 situation into a first down with a burst around left end for just the right number of yards. Lindsay followed with a five-yard run on fourth and three from the six, nearly reaching the goal line behind strong blocking.

“If you keep their offense off the field, they can’t score,” Crosby said of the time-consuming drive. “We knew they would blitz, and (guard) Kobe May picked up the blitz and did a great job blocking. Our blocking in general was much improved. They worked well together.

“Coach (AJ) Montanez did a great job with them, and they rose to the occasion.”

Thermopolis struck back quickly following a short Lovell kickoff, going 54 yards in 2½ minutes to score. Shumway rolled right and hit Roedy Farrell for 28-yard gain to the Lovell 26, and on fourth and 11 at the Lovell 16, Shumway found Jaxon Jensen on a post pattern at the goal line, and he went high to pull in the touchdown pass. Farrell ran in the two-point conversion, and Thermop led 8-7 just over a minute into the second quarter (10:56).

“He (Coach Matt McPhie) did a good job mixing things up,” Crosby said. “They used some play action stuff we hadn’t seen on film before. They had a good game plan that took our boys a while to adjust to. They also took advantage of our lack of discipline on a couple of plays.”

A nice kickoff return of 29 yards by Dallen Mangus got the Bulldogs started at their own 34 on the ensuing series, and they scored in seven plays. Quarterback Cason James found McArthur out of the backfield for nine yards on third and eight as Monterde and Mayes led the way with downfield blocks, Crosby said, then McArthur burst around left end for a 22-yard gain, with five yards tacked on when a Thermop defender dragged him down by his facemask.

McArthur slashed for 26 yards to the two, and two plays later James powered into the end zone for the score. Mayes’ PAT was true, and Lovell led 14-8 midway through the second (8:19).

Crosby said Mayes again helped McArthur with a downfield block on the 26-yard run.

“I was really pleased with Aden’s blocking, filling in for Casen (Hiser at tight end),” the coach said. “He exceeded my expectations.”

The back-and-forth action continued as Thermopolis drove 58 yards for a touchdown, running the ball effectively before scoring. After seemingly halting the drive the Bulldogs fell victim to a trick play. On fourth and 13 at the Lovell 14, Shumway threw a lateral in the backfield to Jensen, who then completed a halfback pass to Eli McCumber in the end zone. A pass for the two-point conversion failed, leaving the two foes tied 14-14 with 1:44 left in the first half.

Instead of being satisfied with a halftime tie, the Bulldogs drove 58 yards to score in just over a minute. Lindsay burst around right end for 16, and McArthur powered for 10, with facemask penalty yardage tacked on. Two plays later from the 15, James executed a play-action fake perfectly and found Mayes wide open on a flag pattern to the left side for a touchdown. A fake PAT pass missed, but Lovell had a 20-14 lead at halftime.

Down to the wire

Thermopolis took the second-half kickoff and drove 69 yards to score, again running the ball well. Logan Cole scored on a two-yard run, but the Bulldogs stopped the two-point conversion, leaving the score knotted 20-20 midway through the third quarter (6:17).

It looked like the Bulldogs would again answer the Bobcat touchdown as they drove 43 yards to the Thermop 30, but a fumbled snap from center turned the ball over to the visitors. This time the Bulldogs forced a three-and-out from Thermop, but after one first down, the Bulldogs, too, had to punt.

An illegal block on the punt return buried the Bobcats back at the 15, and after the Bobcats gained two first downs, a snap from center that carried high over Shumway’s head lost 21 yards, followed by a motion penalty, the Bobcats had to punt.

Lovell then launched the game-winning drive in the final minutes of the game. Starting with 3:22 to play, the Bulldogs used almost all of the rest of the clock, driving 49 yards into field goal range.

The Bulldogs stayed with the ground game and seemed to be the stronger team down the stretch.

“We’re pretty well conditioned,” Crosby said. “We have more depth than Thermop, which worked in our favor.”

Starting at the Lovell 46, it was McArthur for five, Lindsay for five, McArthur for three, Lindsay for three and James for seven on a quarterback keeper right up the gut. Lindsay burst around right end for 10 to the 21, and James went up the middle again to the 13.

The Bobcats stiffened, and the Bulldogs reached the 7 in three plays. On fourth and four Mayes attempted a 25-yard field goal, and his aim was perfect, despite suffering from some leg soreness during the game. Lovell had a 23-20 lead with 12 seconds to play.

“He had been kicking well in warm-ups,” Crosby said. “His leg was bothering him a little bit. He had a sore quad and had complained about it during the week.”

With just seconds left on the clock, Thermopolis had no choice but to go to the air. On first down from the Thermop 38, Shumway tried to find a hole in the Lovell secondary, but Mayes was “Aden on the spot” and picked off the aerial, returning it to the 22 where a Bobcat player brought him down with a horse collar, shoved him and then gave a gesture to the Lovell players as Lovell coaches intervened to prevent a response.

“I was proud of our kids. They kept their composure,” Crosby said. “That was a huge win for us.”

Punchers on the road

The Bulldogs (2-2) must now make their second long road trip of the season to Southwest Wyoming, meeting the undefeated Big Piney Punchers Friday at 2 p.m. Big Piney is 4-0 overall and 3-0 in the 2A West with wins over the Evanston junior varsity 61-0, Thermopolis 14-12, Pinedale 48-2 and Lyman 6-0.

“Their quarterback (Kaden Raza) is back from last year,” Crosby said. “He’s awfully skilled in the spread offense they run. He’s a big guy who can take some hits. They will throw quite a bit.

“Defensively, they’re very physical and aggressive blitzing their backers. They have a couple of strong defensive ends, as well, and their linebackers flow well to the ball.”

The key for the Bulldogs, Crosby said, will be to keep the Punchers off balance.

“We’ve got to be able to complete some quick passes and get the ball to the perimeter but also get yards inside with the running game,” he said.