Friday night, the Thunderbirds held Shawano scoreless for three of the four quarters.
Unfortunately, Shawano scored all 28 of their points in the second quarter and took advantage of six LUHS turnovers, as the T-Birds dropped their season opener 28-7.
“Six turnovers, yeah I guess if you’re a bakery you like to have that but we certainly don’t want to go into a game and have six turnovers,” coach Mike Mestelle said.
LUHS (0-1) looked strong to start the game, getting the ball at their own 23-yard line and marching 76 yards down the field before they fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line. It was the first of six fumbles on the night for the T-Birds, including three that were lost.
“We left points on the field early,” Mestelle said.
In the second quarter, Shawano gained control after an interception on their own 33-yard line. Two plays later, Chase Henning rumbled into the end zone from nine yards out to give the visitors a 7-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the second.
Just two plays after that, Nick Peterson was intercepted by Zach Sousek, who ran the ball back 76 yards for another touchdown to put Shawano up 14-0.
“We gave them a few early in the game where we threw the interception out in the flats and the kid picked it off and ran it in,” Mestelle said.
A 24-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Cole Huntington to Sousek at 4:27 and a 3-yard Huntington QB sneak as time expired gave Shawano a 28-0 lead at halftime.
“We had a mistake in our pass coverage in that second quarter. We bit on the inside route and they ran the route up the sideline for the touchdown,” Mestelle said. “There were some mistakes, we’re playing a lot of juniors in there, a lot of inexperienced kids, and I thought we looked inexperienced in the first half.”
As rough as the first half – especially the second quarter – was for the T-Birds, Mestelle was proud of his team for not giving up in the second half, when LUHS outscored the visitors 7-0.
What I was really proud of was how we came back in the second half,” Mestelle said. “We’ve been working hard, we’ve worked harder this year than we have in four years, and it showed. Our kids were pretty fresh there in the second half and we were still coming off the ball and getting after them.”
After Lakeland forced a three-and-out, another fumble the very next play gave Shawano the ball at the T-Birds 26-yard line. Lakeland’s Kyle Foster then picked off a Shawano pass and returned down to Shawano’s 37-yard line.
From there, the T-Birds manufactured a nine-play scoring drive capped by a Sam Jaeger 4-yard touchdown run. The carry – Jaeger’s seventh of the drive – cut the deficit to 28-7 with 6:59 left in the third quarter.
“Boy in that third quarter you could really feel the momentum switch,” Mestelle said. “I thought if we could’ve punched another one in there and make it 28-14 on that drive in the third quarter we would’ve had a heck of a fourth quarter in store for us.”
LUHS immediately forced another Shawano three-and-out and marched back down the field to set up a first-and-goal situation.
Unfortunately, the T-Birds were stalled at the two-yard line as time expired in the third quarter.
“We just could not get that ball across the goal line. That’s something where we just have to stay focused and finish drives,” Mestelle said. “It’s like in baseball, what’s the hardest three outs to get in a game? The last three outs. Well the hardest yards to get in football are the ones inside the 10.”
The Lakeland defense forced another Shawano three-and-out to start the fourth, giving themselves good field position at Shawano’s 31-yard line after the Hawks were forced to punt from their own six-yard line.
The T-Birds got it down to fourth-and-one at the 22-yard line, but Nick Peterson was stopped just short of the first down, resulting in another turnover with 8:46 left in the game.
Lakeland got the ball back a final time with 4:09 left in the game, and marched down to Shawano’s 28-yard line before LUHS’ sixth fumble of the game gave the ball back to the visitors for good with 2:36 left in the game.
“To Shawano’s credit they bent but they didn’t break,” Mestelle said. “We just made too many mistakes and we beat ourselves tonight, that’s for sure.”
The T-Birds finished with more than 240 rushing yards, including 108 from Jaeger.
“(Sam) was the 100-meter champion in the conference last year so when he gets out in the open field he’s got that extra gear,” Mestelle said. “He can make guys miss, he can get out in the open field, we think he’s going to be very good. He’s very dangerous whenever he touches the ball.”
The game was a mixed bag of results for the senior quarterback Peterson.
“Nick made a lot of fine plays tonight, a couple of nice throws, a couple of nice runs, but he put the ball on the ground a few times and he threw a couple of interceptions, so it was some good and some bad, and with a guy like Nick you just hope he has a short memory,” Mestelle said. “We believe in Nick, he’s a great athlete and he’s a tremendous leader. Nick has the intangibles and I guarantee that he’ll bounce back next week.”
The T-Birds now make a trek to the Upper Peninsula next Friday for a game against Kingsford.
Evan Wixom may be reached at email@example.com.