Tigers beat Bobcats in rain, 12-0Sep 17, 2017 By Scott Akanewich, Sports Editor
Rain poured down on the field at Bill Bush Stadium in Lander on Friday night for the Tigers' homecoming contest against visiting Thermopolis, but despite soggy, miserable conditions throughout, the home side sloshed out a 12-0 victory against the Bobcats for their first home win in four seasons.
The Class 2-A Bobcats arrived with a 2-0 record on the young season, having beaten Shoshoni and Greybull in their first two outings of the campaign, while the Tigers had dropped decisions to Green River and another Class 2-A club in Glenrock last week.
However, head coach John Rounds' squad came out with a purpose from the opening kick, a failed onside attempt by Thermopolis, which provided the Tigers offense with the ball at midfield to begin the opening possession of the evening.
What also began was a domination by the home side which set the tone for the game, as quarterback Max Mazurie methodically led the Tigers on a 50-yard march down a short field, culminating in a Brody Dempster one-yard scoring plunge for a 6-0 lead before the Bobcats' offense even stepped on the field.
According to Rounds, scoring early -- and more importantly, first -- was critical for the mindset of his side moving forward in the game.
"We decided we wanted to set a tone early in the game and we did that," said Rounds. "In the games we've won the past couple years, we've scored first."
What the early advantage did was enable his defense to pin its ears back and just play football, he said.
"It's huge for our defense to be able to get out and play with a lead," said Rounds. "We put a game plan in place and we had guys flying to the football. Guys like Brody (Dempster), DeAundre (Velarde), Austin Bennett and William Atnip had great games for us."
The drive took plenty of time off the clock, with only 5:33 remaining in the opening quarter when the Bobcats finally got their hands on the wet, slick ball.
Lander's defense came out with the same drive and determination their offensive counterparts had displayed in the previous series, forcing a 3rd-and-20, which the visitors failed to convert.
On the ensuing punt attempt, the ball slipped past the punter after a low snap and the Tigers took over in good field position again at the Bobcats' 36-yard line.
DeAundre Velarde broke free for a 25-yard run down to the Thermopolis 11-yard-line, but the drive failed and Lander turned the ball over on downs as the first quarter ended with the Tigers up, 6-0.
Neither side scored in the second period, leaving the scoreline the same as the teams headed to the halftime locker room.
In the second half, the Bobcats got the ball to begin the third quarter, but the Tigers defense failed to let up on the intensity level which had burned so brightly in the first half.
A rugged Lander defense, which yielded only 129 yards of offense to the visitors, continued to torment and harass Thermopolis signal-caller Cullen Becher into bad decisions and rushed attempts to advance the ball.
Dempster (14 defensive points), Velarde (14), Cody Renner (13), Austin Bennett (12), Jasper Roy (11) and Kayden Heil (10) all smashed mouths and banged heads with their opponents in shutting down a Thermopolis offense which had scored a combined 74 points in their first two outings this season.
After Velarde was briefly relegated to the sidelines after a stick by Bobcats defender Logan Cole, it was Heil who picked up the slack in the Lander offensive backfield, carrying the ball six times for 23 yards until Velarde returned to the lineup.
In fact, Velarde rushed 14 times for 105 yards on the night, good for a hefty 7.5-yard average, including a beautiful, 30-yard cutback run in the fourth quarter, making several tacklers miss in the process.
Nearing the end of the third quarter, the rain continued to fall, but the Tigers remained steadfast in their resolve.
Mazurie attempted only six passes on the game, but connected on three of them, one a completion to Conrad Swenson, which prolonged a Tigers drive, followed by runs of seven and four yards by Dempster and Heil, respectively, before Dempster again rumbled in from one yard out and a 12-0 advantage the Tigers would ultimately hold on to for the victory.
Renner helped ensure the result with an interception of a Becher pass on the goal line, as the Bobcats were poised to score and the Tigers defense stood strong one last time, preventing Thermopolis from scoring inside the final minute of play.
Rounds said a critical factor in his club's success was the battle for the soggy ground.
"Field position was critical for us," he said. "We wanted to put ourselves in good scenarios and force them into long situations."
Indeed, the Tigers forced the Bobcats into several mistakes, although Rounds acknowledged his squad needs to be able to take better advantage of their opponents' transgressions.
"We simply need to capitalize on a few more of those situations," he said. "It was the story of last week."
Against Glenrock in the previous contest, the Tigers failed to convert early on when a score or two could've shifted the sands of fortune in their favor in what would eventually be a 32-14 defeat to the Herders.
However, it was lesson learned for his team, said Rounds, a message he delivered to them before they retook the field for the second half against the Bobcats.
"I told them if we played like we did in the second half last week, Thermopolis wasn't going to score," he said. "The players are really beginning to believe in themselves."
For Rounds, the victory represented another milestone in what has been a long, slow and painful process on the road to building a successful program, he said.
"We're a significantly-improved team," said Rounds. "I'm really glad we could do it at home, especially with it being homecoming in from of our fans and for the seniors who've been battling all along."
Lander (1-2) will next face Torrington in a road contest next Friday to open Class 3-A East conference play.
Thermopolis 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Lander 6 0 6 0 -- 12
Lander - Dempster 1-yard run (kick failed), 5:33.
Lander - Dempster 1-yard run (run failed), 4:13
Thermopolis - Maddock 6-27, Becher 26-22, Cole 8-19.
Lander - Velarde 14-105, Dempster 18-75, Heil 6-23, Motherway, 5-16, Shakespeare 2-1, Mazurie, 2-4.
Thermopolis - Becher 5-9-1-61.
Lander - Mazurie 3-6-0-31.
George 1-31, Maddock 2-15, Schwalbe 1-13, Cole 1-2.
Lander - Swenson 2-31.
Thermopolis - Haberman 19, Cole 17, Maddock 10, VanAntwerp 9, Tobar 9, D. Harvey 8, L. Daniels 7, C. Becher 7, M. Daniels 7, J. Harvey 6, Slagle 2, Yarbrough 2, E. Becher 1, George 1.
Lander - Dempster 14, Velarde 14, Renner 13, Bennett 12, Roy 11, Heil 10, Shakespeare 8, Swenson 7, Atnip 6, Cronk 4, Lesher 1, Bird Chief 1, Gosnell 1, Jay 1.