The Lacombe Rams suffered a tough loss at the hands of the Notre Dame Cougars in high school football action at ME Global Athletic Park last Friday.
Despite strong showings from wide receiver David Mueller, who just returned from an injury, and quarterback Jonathan Ericson, the Rams couldn’t keep up with the punishing running game of the Cougars and lost a nail-biter 34-17.
“The offense had a lot more confidence going into this game. They moved the ball effectively, we just weren’t quite able to finish the way we would want,” said Head Coach Riley Quance.
The Rams looked strong at the start of the game. Their defense was solid, allowing no touchdowns and forced the Cougars to punt twice in the first quarter.
The only problem was that their offence wasn’t quite clicking, as they couldn’t complete a pass on their first two drives. Their running game was strong in the first half, picking up enough yards for a couple first downs, but it wasn’t enough to break through the defense and get them into the end zone.
The defense held strong though and kept the Cougars off the board until the dying seconds of the first quarter. Lacombe’s defense forced the Cougars to punt the ball after a quick two-and-out drive. Unfortunately for the Rams, though, the game took a turn for the worse when the punt took a funny bounce off the turf and sailed right past a very surprised-looking Mueller, who was out on the field to return the punt.
Mueller did his best to recover the ball, but just couldn’t turn around in time to beat Cougars defender Beko Wande, who, after a brief scramble, emerged with the ball inside Lacombe’s 10 yard line.
This led to a quick rushing touchdown on the final play of the quarter by Cougars running back Johannes Smith. The Rams didn’t back down, though, as they capitalized on a dropped snap by the Cougars on the conversion attempt and held the score at 6-0 at the end of 1.
The second quarter, though, was all Cougars.
Notre Dame’s run game seemed unstoppable in the second, as running backs Johannes Smith and Justin Fedun combined for 312 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
The Rams offense settled in a little bit more as well, as they managed to fight their up field twice and almost managed to nab a touchdown on a beautiful diving catch by Mueller, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty in the backfield.
Despite that strong performance, the Cougars’ offence struck for two touchdowns in the quarter and went into halftime with a comfortable 18 point lead.
The second half was the Rams’ turn to shine, though.
Lacombe outscored Notre Dame 17-14 in the final two quarters, led by none other than Mueller who had a whirlwind second half that included two touchdowns and a combined 95 yards of offence.
“David had a great game. He’s just coming back off of a knee injury and he played extremely well for someone who’s been out as long as he has,” Quance said.
Mueller played in the team’s first game of the season, but suffered a knee injury the following practice that sidelined him until this week.
“He’s definitely going to be an impact player for us moving forward.”
It took the Rams just three minutes to break the shut out. The defense, who returned to the brick wall they had been at earlier in the game, forced Notre Dame to punt the ball from deep in their own end.
This time Mueller made no mistakes. He caught the ball on the side line and started to run up field.
Most of the time, punt returners are looking for a seam in the defense; a hole that they can exploit to gain some big yards.
When Mueller caught the ball, he started to run up the sideline to try to pick up a couple of yards but he quickly seemed to notice that he wasn’t going to get very far. So he took off laterally to the other side of the field and found a seam.
As soon as he found that hole, he was gone and no one was going to catch him as he took the ball 62 yards to the house for the Rams’ first TD of the game. The Rams would add a two point conversion to make it an 18-8 ball game.
Johannes Smith responded, though, and punched through a goal line stand by the Rams’ defense two minutes later for his second of the game.
It looked like that might be it for Lacombe, who were now trailing 25-8 with time ticking down in the third quarter.
They needed a big play that could boost their spirits. And their offence delivered.
With just 30 seconds left in the third, Rams quarterback Ericson took the snap, dropped back to pass, and hurled a bomb up field to Mueller, who caught the ball well behind Notre Dame’s secondary and ran it into the end zone for a 60 yard passing touchdown.
Ericson completed 14 of the 25 passes he threw for a total of 175 yards.
The Rams were still in it, and it looked like they could come away with a win if they could just get the ball back and get a quick six.
Despite a valiant effort, Lacombe couldn’t quite complete the comeback as Notre Dame chalked up one more touchdown to win the game 34-17 and leave Lacombe still looking for their first win.
“We’re confident moving forward we’ll be able to get that final push and be able to execute at a high level from start to finish on our drives and put some more points up on the board,” Quance said.
Next up for Lacombe is a home game against Hunting Hills on Oct. 22nd. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at ME Global Athletic Park.firstname.lastname@example.org