(Photo by Roy Tucker)
Central Lyon dominated the entire first half and most of the second, earning an 8-0 lead in the first quarter on a 74-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cory Kuehl and a two-point conversion pass from Kuehl to Jarren Wiersma. The Lions added to the lead in the second quarter on a one-yard run by Kuehl and were up 14-0 heading into halftime.
The Bulldogs were unable to mount any kind of offensive threat in the first half, netting 37 yards on four first-half possessions. Le Mars was equally inept as the second half got under way with just 33 yards of offense and a fumble on two third-quarter possessions. The Bulldog defense, however, stepped up to stall the Lions with an interception by Brandon Phelan returned 89 yards to the Central Lyon 11-yard line. That pick should have started the Bulldogs' comeback right then and there, but Central Lyon's defense came up with a big stop that all but assured a Lions victory.
"Brandon Phelan intercepted the ball in the end zone and he ran it back about 90 yards, so here we are ready to go," said Le Mars head coach Jim Boyd. "We got momentum. Low and behold, they stopped us. We didn't get the ball in. We couldn't score and the ball's turned over to them."
Le Mars' defense held Central Lyon again and the Lions were forced to punt with time ticking down in the quarter. Two plays later, the Bulldogs were finally on the scoreboard as Brandon Phelan found Caleb Van Otterloo on a 28-yard touchdown pass and Joel Kruse added the extra point with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
"They were playing Cover-2 and the corner was up a little bit tight and the safety never came over," said Boyd. "It was an excellent throw and Caleb takes it in for a touchdown. Now we're down one touchdown and we're feeling pretty good about ourselves."
Central Lyon took over on offense and worked the clock, trying to run out time on the Bulldog comeback attempt, even taking a knee at one point. The Lions could not run the clock completely out, however, and had to punt to Le Mars to give the Bulldogs one last offensive series. Central Lyon had punted four times successfully throughout the game and figured to back Le Mars deep in its own territory with under a minute to go, but the punt sailed over the kicker's head and the Bulldogs took over close to their own 30-yard line. Four plays later -on fourth down - Phelan hit Van Otterloo again, this time for a 21-yard touchdown strike and Kruse tied the game on the extra point with :05 on the scoreboard.
"We get the ball back somewhere around the 30-yard line and we're out of timeouts," said Boyd, descrbing the game-tying drive. "We're scrambling. We try to put together some plays to try and get into the end zone, but the reality of the whole thing is Caleb broke off his route and went into the end zone and Brandon threw him another perfect pass. Caleb makes an exceptional catch and now we're tied up and we got :05 on the clock."
The miracle comeback was not over for the Bulldogs as Central Lyon took first shot at the end zone in overtime. The Le Mars defense bent but did not break as the Lions gained eight yards before stalling out. The Bulldogs then had their shot and tried a fake field goal with a pass from Justin Phelan to Bryan Borchers, but could not score. That set up Joel Kruse with a 28-yard field goal attempt and Kruse came through with the game-winner, completing the come-from-behind victory.
Kruse was no stranger to game-winning kicks, having beaten MOC-Floyd Valley in overtime with one in 2004. Boyd said that he spoke to Kruse before the game about being confident in those types of situations and Kruse delivered once again.
"Kickers are a little different and you've got to be careful with them because they think too much," said Boyd. "Before this ballgame I talked to Joe and I said, 'Joe, just go out there and kick the ball. Don't think about it. Just go out and kick it because there's going to be a situation where we need you in this ballgame,' and sure enough, here it was and he came through beautifully for us."
Central Lyon dominated the game statistically with 247 yards of total offense on 68 plays, compared to 130 yards of total offense for Le Mars on just 39 plays. Phelan finished the night 3 of 8 passing for two touchdowns with all three completions going to Van Otterloo. Phelan also rushed 11 times for 91 yards with a long run of 72, while Justin Phelan carried five times for 17 yards and Chris Campbell carried four times for nine yards. Last week's top rusher - Chris Newman - was nowhere to be found on the rushing chart after 10 carries and Boyd said Central Lyon was focused on stopping Newman coming into the game.
"They scouted us and watched the West Lyon game. They realized Chris Newman is kind of our feature back and they game-planned to take him out of the ballgame and they did a fine job of stopping him," said Boyd.
Newman was not the only Bulldog that had trouble getting on track against the Central Lyon defense. Boyd said that the entire offense struggled against the Lions' superior size and the team was lucky to get the scores needed when it did.
"It was like David and Goliath out there. They were huge and big and we tried to run the ball and we couldn't," said Boyd. "We couldn't establish anything. We couldn't throw the ball because they were playing a 4-3 with a Cover-2. so it was very difficult to move the ball on them."
Time of possession also worked in Central Lyon's favor as the Bulldogs had few chances to put points on the board until the final minutes when a few breaks came their way.
"We just didn't have the ball. I think at one point they had the ball for 20 minutes and we had it a total of six," said Boyd. "When we got the ball we had terrible field position, so it was a situation where we couldn't do what we wanted to do. We struggled for quite a bit of that ballgame, but the kids came through when we had to come through."
The Le Mars defensive effort was led by John Barker with 8.5 tackles. Barker led Le Mars in tackles against West Lyon as well and is turning into a fine edition to the team, according to defensive coach Terry Fitzgerald.
"John Barker wasn't in our program last year, but he's a strong kid. He's tough and hard-nosed and he's got real good feet," said Fitzgerald. "John came up big on the overtime stand when we held them in four downs. He's not going to back off and he knows how to play the game physical like we like it."
Campbell and Justin Phelan added seven tackles apiece, with Josh Reuter totalling 6.5 wrap-ups and Brandon Phelan 5.5 with one interception for 89 yards.
It was the third straight win for Le Mars in the 18-game series with Central Lyon and the fifth in six years.
Le Mars will now turn its attention towards Class 3A District 1 football with the district opener Friday at Spirit Lake. The Indians are 1-1 and Boyd expects another highly-contested game Friday night.
"I'm sure they're going to prepare and I think Brad (Grimmius) is doing a good job up there," said Boyd. "From what I hear everyone's short on kids this year and they're having some of the same problems we have, but I look for a good ballgame."