Friday night lights. High school football has been known to be big and a tradition to end the week. Lakeland Union High School kicked off its season on Friday night.
The Thunderbirds took the long trip to take on Cudahy High School on Aug. 23. The Thunderbirds won 35-33 after two overtimes in what might end up being one of the best games all year.
In the first quarter, Cudahy didn’t advance too far and was forced to punt. Lakeland had other ideas when they possessed the ball.
On a third down play, Quarterback Michael Ouimette scrambled for the first down on a long running play, part of his big day overall. He finished 21/36 for 221 yards and three passing touchdowns and 18 rushes for 116 yards and two touchdowns.
Getting down to the goaline, Ouimette threw his first touchdown of the night to receiver Chase Hunt. It was 7-0.
Cudahy didn’t take long to answer. It only took them three plays before Mason Verley scored on second and goal. The game was tied 7-7.
Lakeland went right back at it on their second drive. Hunt made another big catch to get them to the five-yard line.
That was where Ouimette ran it in for his first rushing touchdown of the day. It was 14-7 Lakeland.
Both teams didn’t do much on their next couples of possessions. Before the end of the half, Lakeland had one more turn to score. Ouimette threw his first interception of the year as Lakeland looked for more points.
It was the first turnover of the game. The Thunderbirds led 14-7 at halftime.
In the second half, Cudahy had a long drive that would set the table for a crazy fourth quarter. Moving the ball down the field, they ran into a fourth down situation. They threw it on fourth down and converted.
Later in the drive it looked as if Verley scored again but it was called back for a holding penalty. Eventually it was fourth and goal. They went for it again and converted.
With pressure in his face, quarterback Bryce Barbian threw it in the back of the end zone for a touchdown by Charles Zelensky. In total, it was a 19 play drive. The game was tied 14-14.
The Thunderbirds used Ouimette to gain control again. Three straight running plays by the quarterback started their next drive. Another run by Ouimette put them at first and goal.
After three straight incompletions, it was fourth down. They went for it and with Ouimette under pressure, he lobbed it to Hunt, who fought for the ball and caught it in the endzone. Thunderbirds led 21-14.
It was part of a huge day for Hunt.
“He was incredible. His athleticism is off the charts and he’s dynamic and dynamite with the ball in his hands,” head coach Dan Barutha said.
With four minutes left in the game, Cudahy was driving the ball down the field. On a first and goal play, Dylan Kronquist scored and the game was tied 21-21.
The Thunderbirds had two minutes to score some points. A big catch by receiver Isaiah Draeger down the sideline put them in business.
Two plays later, Wolfe made a catch for eight yards. With the ball at about midfield, Ouimette threw his second interception of the game as he under threw his receiver.
With 49 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Cudahy had the ball in a 21-21 tie game. They went three and out and punted the ball back to Lakeland.
The Thunderbirds had one more chance with four seconds left to play to try for a miraculous last-second score.
Ouimette threw the ball up in the air to Hunt, but it was knocked down by a Cudahy defender.
They were off to overtime.
In overtime, both teams get a chance to possess the ball with both teams starting inside their opponent’s territory.
Cudahy started with the ball and didn’t waste anytime. Receiver Emmitt Hawkins caught a short pass, shifted past a couple of defenders, switched fields and scored a touchdown.
When Cudahy attempted to kick the extra point, Lakeland blocked it. The score was 27-21. It was the first missed extra point of the night.
Now it was Lakeland’s turn to possess the ball. On a second down play, there was a pass interference in the end zone that gave the Thunderbirds a first down.
They used it to their advantage and slowly picked up yardage with Ouimette running the ball. He finished the drive off with a running touchdown.
All they needed was an extra point for the win. But with backup snapper Cody Wolfe in for the injured Brady Olson, the snap was high and the extra point was never attempted.
“We rallied back and in no time did our kids ever quit and the heart on this team can’t be measured,” Barutha explained.
The score was 27-27 and off to a second overtime.
This time, Lakeland started with the ball. Pulling off a great play, Ouimette faked a throw to a receiver to get the corner to bite, and with no one covering downfield, Ouimette hit Zach Hayes running down the field for a touchdown.
“We ran that earlier and because they were hard press on our quick screens, we ran a double move on that and they bit on the quick screen and we had the shot over the top,” Barutha said.
The Thunderbirds decided to go for two and they were successful as Ouimette threw a bullet to Hunt for the easy score. They led 35-27.
Cudahy wasn’t going to go down easy in this opening-night battle.
After a few successful plays, they were down to Lakeland’s one-yard line. From there, Barbian scored a rushing touchdown.
Cudahy needed the two-point conversion to advance to another overtime.
After a timeout, Cudahy ran a run that got stuffed in the backfield. It was over. Lakeland had won.
“Our defense we dubbed the Black Plague and our guys have really bought into the belief of the Black Plague and what it represents,” Barutha said.
The Thunderbirds next game comes Friday, Aug. 30 at Northland Pines starting at 7 p.m. in Eagle River.
Brett LaBore may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]