Lakers start quick, but see momentum go other way against Knights
By Wayne E. Rivet
POLAND — For the first 12 minutes Friday, Lake Region appeared primed to spoil Poland’s Homecoming football game.
With the offensive line opening gaping holes, the Lakers bulled their way down the field on their opening drive as Andrew Douglass had a 12 yard burst on his first carry and bulldozed ahead for 7 more yards on a fourth down play to pick up a first down.
Dakota Stover showed off his speed getting to the outside, gaining 18 yards to place the ball on the P-3. He nearly lost the handle after being hit from behind, but Stover kept a grip on the football.
The next play, Ethen McMurray drove in from three yards out for a touchdown and Paul Walker boomed the extra point.
After the Laker defense forced a three-and-out, quarterback Derek Mondville showed good poise in the pocket, tossing a 14-yard pass to end Mark Mayo for a first down. Later, Chase Weese busted loose for 17 and 9 yards to move the ball into Knight territory.
Moments later, the Lakers appeared to create a little lightning as Mondville pitched a perfect pass over the middle to receiver True Meyers, who turned on the jets to zip away from the Poland secondary for a 45-yard score.
LR was flagged for ineligible receiver (a lineman) downfield.
Two plays later, Mondville was intercepted by Brady Downing when he tried to connect with Meyers on the same pass pattern.
Momentum changed, and so did the game’s complexion.
Senior tailback Austin Bouchard rushed for 147 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns as Poland rallied for a 32-20 victory.
The Lakers turned the ball over six times — five interceptions — and had a punt blocked giving the Knights too many opportunities as Poland cracked the win column for the first time.
The Lakers fell to 0-4.
“We had a pretty good idea what they were going to do defensively. I thought we started out well. Then, we had a momentum shift, and it proved difficult to recover from,” Lake Region Coach Brian Jahna said. “It was a legitimate call (illegal man downfield). It was play action, and one of our guys was too far downfield and tried to pull back. He was uncovered (no Poland player on him), and was trying to find someone to hit. He got too far down the field.”
Although his club managed to post better stats than the Knights, mistakes and the team’s inability to overcome adversity resulted in the Lakers’ fourth straight defeat.
“It taps into something that we’ve been experiencing. Something bad happens, momentum shifts, it seems like that’s what happens at Lake Region. We need to change that belief,” Coach Jahna said. “We need to be able to bounce back from adversity. It’s tough when you have so many young guys. They’re learning. We need some of our veteran players to step up and be leaders, for sure. We’re looking for that person right now. We have underclassmen trying to do their best, but you can’t expect them to step up and lead your team. That’s a lot to ask.”
The Lakers appeared to dodge a bullet in the first quarter by stopping a Poland drive after the Downing interception. Bouchard, who ran hard all night, saw his extra effort work against him as he fumbled after gaining a first down, recovered by Mondville.
But, the Lakers were in a giving mood Friday night as Mondville fired his second interception on the next play, picked off by end Levi Lawrence, who returned it to the LR-1. Bouchard promptly scored, but Aaron Paradis’ extra point try sailed wide left.
Flagged three times, the Lakers faced a 3rd-and-22 call inside their own 20, Mondville was intercepted by Downing again, who returned the ball to the LR-3.
Bouchard was stuffed twice for no gain by his counterpart, #34 Andrew Douglass. On third down, Knight quarterback Gawain Tibbetts found Cody Comeau all alone in the left corner for a touchdown with 7:34 left in the half.
Forced to punt on their next possession, the Lakers had their punt blocked by Garrett Griffin, again giving the Knights excellent field position at the LR-12.
Showing some grit, the Laker defense came up with a big stand as Ben Roakes and Hunter McDaniel combined for a stop on third down, and a fumbled snap resulted in Tibbetts losing four yards as Nick Gagnon came up with a hit.
LR again was unable to get any push up front as Poland forced a punt. Starting at the LR-24, Poland drew a pass interference call, and then Tibbetts connected with Zach Cote for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 left to put the Knights up 18-7.
Mondville developed a hot hand over the final 1:12, completing three passes — 15 and 12 yards strikes to Meyers — to move the ball to the P-30. But, the Knights tipped a pass intended for McDaniels and intercepted the ball at the P-18 to end the threat.
“We couldn’t throw the ball with any real success, so it made it very difficult for us. Too many times, we gave them a very short field to work with — 10 or 5 yard drives leading to touchdowns,” Coach Jahna said.
Halftime didn’t cool off the Knights. With four straight Bouchard carries, Poland moved 46 yards into Laker territory. Tibbetts then found Tyler Tucci for a 15-yard gain. Tucci moved the ball closer to pay dirt with a 7-yard run, setting up a 1-yard Bouchard plunge.
Bad luck continued to dog the Lakers as the kickoff return was fumbled, and Poland again was deep inside Laker Land. The Knights cashed in, going seven plays for 35 yards with Tibbetts and Tucci connecting for a 10-yard TD. Bouchard kept the drive alive, scooting 17 yards on a quick toss to the left on fourth down.
Down 32-7, the Lakers refused to quit. After Douglass gained 14 and 3 yards, Mondville again found Meyers deep over the middle. Meyers showed exceptional burst and finishing speed, racing 63 yards for a score. Walker added the extra point.
“It’s a game changer…just a start,” one player told his teammates as he returned to the bench.
Meyers electric run seemed to add some spark to the LR defense. Todd Crawford and Brandon Sargent dropped Bouchard for a two-yard loss to force a 3-and-out for the Knights.
Lake Region threatened to make Homecoming interesting as Sargent nearly broke free for a score, rushing 43 yards only to be stopped by a saving tackle by freshman Levi Lawrence. The play proved huge.
Two running plays moved the ball to the P-12, but the Laker comeback bid stalled when McMurray was stopped for no gain by senior lineman Quinn Callahan. Facing a critical fourth down, a game official ordered Mondville (a junior) to the LR bench because his helmet had come off during the previous play.
“By rule, if a player's helmet comes off, then they must take one play off. I spoke with the side judge and he told me that the quarter change allowed him to go back in. When we sent him in, the lead official sent him back saying that the quarter change did not save him. It is a rule designed for safety to ensure that the player is okay to return to play,” Coach Jahna explained.
McMurray, a freshman, entered the game, and missed on a toss over the middle to Brent Massey.
“It was frustrating because the referee told us he was good to go. Then, they (the officials) switched it on us and sent Derek out of the game,” Coach Jahna said. “I could have done a better job coaching in that situation, knowing we had a QB switch, I probably should have looked at some better (play) options than the play-action pass.”
This time, the Laker defense kept Poland pinned deep in their own end. It paid off as the Lakers went 49 yards in seven plays with Douglass scoring from 11 yards out. Big plays in the drive included a 40-yard scramble on fourth down by Mondville.
The Lakers were unable to force a turnover off a squib kickoff, and the Knights took four minutes off the clock with a first down and a 24-yard Bouchard run.
A dejected Coach Jahna said his players will need to look deep inside as they try to snap their losing string against Gray-New Gloucester this Friday night on Homecoming.
“Going into this week, it’s not a matter how we bounce back as we prepare for Gray, but it’s more about what we are as young men. How do we get stronger in life? At this point, that may be the more important thing,” he said. “How do we face this type of situation and do the right things, beyond football. Showing up on time for classes and practice. Treating each other well. That’s what I’ll be looking for.”