Lakers give Patriots the boot, 7-6
By Wayne E. Rivet
When healthy, Dakota Stover is explosive.
Although the senior running back continues to nurse a quad injury, when he needed a burst Friday night, he found it.
And, it was just what the Lake Region football team needed — a spark.
Stover found some daylight on the outside, turned on his jets, and bolted for a 77-yard touchdown with 7:24 left in the second quarter and Paul Walker booted the extra point to propel the Lakers to their first win of the season, a hard-fought 7-6 victory over Gray-New Gloucester on Homecoming.
Stover rushed for 122 yards on seven carries, and had just enough zip on the game-winning sprint to pull away from Patriot defender Scott Lynch.
“We’ve missed Dakota all year, and he’s still not healthy. He changes things both offensively and defensively. We’ve had a lot of young guys in our defensive backfield, and having him helps. He’s a difference maker,” Laker Coach Brian Jahna said. “He was cramping in the second quarter. His legs just aren’t underneath him. He’s had the quad injury, which doesn’t allow him to do too much with his legs. He fought through it. He’s a tough kid, character kid. I’m so proud of him.”
Another difference maker has been junior kicker Paul Walker, whose extra point proved to be the game winner.
“Finding a kicker has been a focus for us. We’ve searched for one, anyone with an interest or has shown some ability, we try to get them going,” Coach Jahna said. “Paul Walker is a first-year player (coming over from the soccer program), and has really developed as a kicker, and as a football player.”
With both clubs seeking their first win, the two clubs seemingly approached the game the same way. Both wanted to ground and pound. The Patriots controlled the trenches early, and took a 6-0 lead with 3:15 left in the first quarter as Boomer Simmons scored from a yard out.
Simmons was tough to stop early on, making strong, quick cuts off solid blocks off tackle. He carried the ball seven of the nine plays during the 55-yard scoring drive, rushing for 47 yards.
For the game, the Patriots’ junior running back lugged the ball 29 times for 141 yards. Coach Jahna knew his defense would have their hands full with Simmons and the Patriots front line.
“We made some personnel changes this week, wanting to get a little tougher at linebacker and be a little more athletic on the edges,” Coach Brian Jahna said. “So, early on, some of the guys were still learning their responsibilities and were off just a little bit. With Boomer Simmons over there — who is a fantastic running back, one of the best in our conference — if you give him a little bit of space — which we saw on film — he is going to pop it. He’s a tough runner. We were able to fix it as the night went along.”
Meanwhile, Laker running backs found little room to operate as the Patriots stacked the box with 10 guys close to the line of scrimmage. Looking to keep the Patriot secondary honest, the Lakers tried some short-range passes, but were unsuccessful, going 0-for-5 on the night.
“We had match-ups we liked a lot, but they were so tough on the line that we didn’t have time to do anything,” Coach Jahna said. “They were selling out. They knew they had to stop our run; they sold out completely; and they didn’t allow us to throw the ball.”
Gray-NG had a chance to pad their lead early in the second quarter when the Lakers muffed a punt and Lynch recovered the loose ball at the LR-40. But, the Patriot drive stalled when LR lineman Colby Chaplin stopped Simmons for just a yard, and True Meyers and Andrew Douglass corralled Simmons for a two-yard loss on the next play. On fourth down, the Patriots looked for their rangy tight-end, but the ball was deflected away by Stover.
On the very next play, Stover made his presence felt once more with the long TD run.
Although both teams were stopped by mistakes over the remainder of the contest, both clubs played with a lot of grit and determination.
LR got a punt block by Chaplin, while Brandon Sargent sacked G-NG quarterback Eric Gilbert for an 8-yard loss on a scramble.
The Lakers were able to win the battle of field position when junior Eric Milton knocked a great punt, placing the ball at the G-NG 4. Unfortunately, the LR offense staggered as a high snap on a third down play stalled the drive.
The Patriots gambled on fourth down late in the third quarter, snapping the ball to the up-man in punt formation. But, LR’s Derek Mondville did his job, staying home, and dropped Andrew Topham for a seven-yard loss.
“We felt defensively we could stop any long drive. We wanted to play field position and work the clock. We would have liked to have a few more first downs, but the defensive front they gave us was tough. They beat us up,” Coach Jahna said.
After a strong defensive stand, the Lakers had a chance to give themselves a cushion, taking over at the G-NG 47 with 7:17 left. Ethan McMurray picked up one first down with a seven-yard burst. But, the drive stalled when Mondville had a fourth-down pass blocked.
The Laker defense shut down the Patriots as Todd Crawford lowered the boom on Simmons for a four-yard loss, and Hunter McDaniel nearly intercepted a pass over the middle.
LR tried to take the final 2:55 off the clock by running the ball and forcing the Patriots to burn their timeouts. Stover, who had left the game at times due to cramping, picked up a big first down with a 16-yard burst to the outside. LR moved the ball to the 19-yard line, but saw a short try on fourth down become a tad more difficult when they were whistled for a motion penalty. Again, the Pats held their ground, sacking Mondville for a five-yard loss.
With 1:43 left, True Meyers sealed the victory when he intercepted Gilbert’s pass to the right flat.
“Learning to win is difficult. It’s a skill in itself. You’re almost conditioned to feel a certain way at certain points in the game. Breaking those old habits of the mind is important for us and it’s going to take winning to do it,” Coach Jahna said. “I can’t speak highly enough about our team. Our players worked hard from the very beginning. For them to come out with a win — no matter how — it’s awesome. It’s a young team. To battle it out and show some character, it was nice to see.”
Trying to run the final minute off the clock, the Lakers appeared a bit confused regarding how to simply take a knee.
“It’s not something we’ve had to spend a lot of time on because we haven’t been in that position too often,” Coach Jahna said. “But, I would like to be in that position more often, no doubt.”