Nov 24, 2013 - By Bruce Tippets, Sports EditorCoach Doug Hughes didn't push the panic button when the Lander Tigers were 0-3 at the start of the football season.
He made the right adjustments, and the Tigers finished the year with a 4-5 overall record and the No. 2 seed from the Class 3-A East conference.
The turnaround earned Hughes recognition as the Fremont County coach of the year from the sports staff of The Ranger, Lander Journal and the Wind River News.
"It's a nice honor and one that is definitely a reflection of our team," Hughes said. "You cannot be successful if you do not have a strong staff and players who buy into your program."
Hughes liked the determination shown by everybody involved in the program after the winless start.
"I'm very proud of our team this year," Hughes said. "We could have very easily folded tent after our first three games. Our kids, however, took things in stride and continued to work hard and get better every day."
The Tigers went 4-1 in the final five games of the regular season.
The only setback in the stretch was a 48-0 loss to Douglas, which lost to the Powell Panthers in overtime in the Class 3-A state title game.
"By the end of the season, I think we were a pretty good football team, and definitely improved," Hughes said.
The Tigers lost to Cody 28-0, Star Valley 36-0 and Jackson 38-27 in the first three weeks of the season.
The game with Jackson was the home opener in the third week of the season.
Star Valley and Cody were both ranked in Class 3-A all season and earned high seeds from the 3-A West in the playoffs.
"First of all, we had a brutal early season schedule, with all three teams ranked in the top five and quality opponents," Hughes said. "Also, early in the season we were without a few of our starting lineman. We were able to move some players around on the field to make us better."
The crucial victory for the Tigers was a 14-13 win over Torrington in the fourth week of the season to begin East conference play.
"As the season progressed our players gained confidence," Hughes said. "We began to play much more physical football."
No. 2 seed
Lander then put in a hard-fought 21-0 victory over Buffalo at Bill Bush Memorial Stadium.
The win showed how much Lander's defense had improved in the first five weeks of the season.
"Our season was made by winning both close games that we were in this year," Hughes said. "The one-point win against Torrington gave us a springboard into the conference schedule."
Lander beat Riverton 22-21 to close out the regular season and grab the second seed for the playoffs, sending Riverton to No. 3.
The Tigers were eliminated from postseason play when Cody took away a 49-19 win at Bill Bush Memorial Stadium.
"We played very well for three quarters of the playoff game against Cody," Hughes said. "Then the injuries that we were able to stay away from all year caught up to us. Cody turned up their game."
The Tigers will lose critical players due to graduation this spring at Lander, but some strength will carry over.
"We have a number of returning starters for next season," Hughes said. "They are spread out in all areas that will help."
Hughes is counting on the underclassmen to pick up the slack from the departing seniors.
"We also have a solid group of sophomores and freshman that will compete for starting positions," Hughes said. "However, a lot of success that we have moving forward will depend on the commitment over the summer to the weight room and summer camps, along with a new batch of players taking on a leadership role."
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