By DAVID GREEN
There was a point in the fourth quarter Friday night where things weren’t looking good for Morenci football fans.
After the Bulldogs built a 22-0 lead in the third quarter, Lenawee Christian School started to turn the game around. The Cougars scored, Morenci punted, the Cougars scored again and Morenci punted one more time.
Finally, the Bulldogs put together a final scoring drive, then stopped the Cougars to claim a 29-14 season-opening win.
Morenci coach Mike McDowell wasn’t expecting an easy win against Lenawee Christian despite the Cougars’ entry into football just four seasons ago. He knew the squad had some good skill players.
“It worried me knowing that they had big play potential,” McDowell said. “They’re not a bad team and we knew we’d have to be careful.”
Morenci graduate Scott Gallagher is doing a great job as LCS coach, McDowell said, and has a good supporting coaching staff that’s getting the most of the team.
He expects the Cougars to win some games this season.
The Bulldogs stopped Lenawee Christian’s opening drive and took over possession on the Cougars’ 33-yard line. It took 10 plays, aided by a Cougar penalty, but Morenci went on top 7-0 at 5:19.
LCS was forced to punt and Morenci drove 66 yards before fumbling at the one-yard line. Cougar quarterback Grant Hohlbein kept the ball on the next play and raced more than 70 yards on a play that was called back due to a penalty.
After a punt, the Bulldogs drove from the 33-yard line again, but this time Austin Sandusky fielded a pass from Torin Merillat for a 53-yard touchdown play.
With a bad snap on the point-after kick, holder Hayze Wolf passed the ball to Cody Powell for a 15-0 lead.
After the second half kickoff, Morenci survived a series of penalties when freshman Ryan Amos carried for a 30-yard gain. After a pass to Wolf, Powell drove across the goal line for a 22-0 lead.
Coach McDowell had seen enough promise from the Cougars that he was still wary.
“I never felt comfortable even with the 22-0 lead,” he said.
He knew a big play or two could turn things around.
LCS answered by covering 77 yards in six plays to make it 22-6. Morenci punted and the Cougars returned the ball to the Bulldogs’ 30. Hohlbein scored on the first play to make it 22-14.
Morenci used a combination of runs and passes to drive 53 yards, capped by an easy eight-yard jaunt by Powell. Kendrick Taylor kicked his third PAT of the night for a 29-14 lead.
LCS returned the kickoff to Morenci’s 35 with more than three minutes on the clock. After giving up one first down, the Bulldog defense finally held fast for the win.
Coach McDowell saw some good things from his young squad with five sophomores and one freshman starting, but he also saw plenty of weaknesses.
“We don’t sustain blocks yet and we don’t have the quickness needed,” he said. “We probably got fatigued in the second half and didn’t react as well as we should have.”
McDowell praised the job of sophomore quarterback Torin Merillat (7/9, 115 yards), but said his ball carriers need to do a better job of finding the holes and reacting quickly.
LOOKING AHEAD—The Bulldogs entertain the tough Hudson squad for the home opener at 7 p.m. Thursday, a day early due to the Labor Day holiday.
The Tigers were 41-0 winners over Addison on Friday and will seek their 34th consecutive regular season win at Henry Geisler Field.
McDowell said his squad will suffer from a lack of experience, not from a lack of effort.
After Hudson, the Bulldogs face Whitmore Lake, the only league team other than Sand Creek to lose in the opening week of play. Sand Creek lost in a high-scoring overtime game against Lainsburg.
McDowell sees the Bulldogs as underdogs this season, noting there are many good teams ahead in league play.
“We’ll try to get better every week,” he said, and urges his young players to aim high and play to the best of their ability.