It’s been awhile, but Lyman and Lovell have been here before. The Eagles and Bulldogs, who play Saturday at the University of Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium in the Class 2A state championship game, faced off in back-to-back years (2011-12) in the title game.
Lovell won the first matchup 21-13; Lyman returned the favor with a 22-20 victory the following year. While Saturday will mark the Bulldogs’ first appearance in the state championship game since then, the Eagles beat Torrington in last year’s game, which was played in Torrington because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Both teams have had ups and downs since that 2012 game. Lyman missed the postseason in 2017 and ’18 and didn’t win a playoff game until last year’s run to the championship. Lovell advanced to the semifinals twice but also missed the playoffs following the 2016 and ’18 seasons.
Now they’re both back and proved throughout the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs they deserve to be here.
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“I felt like we had the right character and the right mentality,” Lovell head coach Nicc Crosby said, “but we had to figure out our identity.”
That identity starts up front for the Bulldogs. Their offensive line of seniors Quinn Lindsay (6-foot-5, 275 pounds), Kobe May (6-1, 240) and Samuel Cornia (6-1, 200); and juniors Connor Strom (6-2, 265) and Zane Collins (6-2, 200) have helped clear the way for 2A’s top rushing attack. Lovell’s four-headed attack of Dallen Mangus, Amos Monterde, Ben Nichols and Preston Nichols combined to run for 2,412 yards and 30 touchdowns.
“We had a lot of holes to fill in, but I knew we had an outstanding line,” Crosby said. “So that gave me hope that we would be able to figure things out and put people in the right positions.”
The Lyman defense expects to provide a stiff challenge. The Eagles (11-0) are second in 2A in rush defense and have 50 tackles for loss on the season.
Senior Rho Mecham leads the way with 14 TFL and 10 sacks, with Morgan Hatch and Brayden Bradshaw combining for 12 TFL and six sacks.
The only team better at stopping the run than the Eagles? That would be Lovell, which has allowed just 80.6 rushing yards per game. May and Lindsay have combined for 16 TFL and eight sacks.
Lovell (9-1) limited Lyman to just 35 yards rushing back on Sept. 17, but Eagles’ quarterback Ashton Houskeeper completed 11 of 17 passes for a season-high 212 yards and four touchdowns in Lyman’s 34-15 victory.
“As a coach and a competitor you never want to lose,” Crosby said, “but that loss taught us a lot. It taught us what we needed to work on and the right mentality we had to have. It really did a lot to put things in perspective and it was very motivating.
“It put us in position to play for a state title. As much as a loss can help us, I think that one was good for us.”
Houskeeper has done most of his damage this season on the ground. He leads the classification with 1,321 rushing yards and 25 TDs. In last week’s 38-28 win over Wheatland he rushed for 215 yards and five TDs. Chevy Fackrell has added 819 yards and six scores.
“We want to run the ball,” Lyman head coach Dale Anderson said. “That’s something we take pride in, and I think they do too. It makes it hard on the defense when they have to spend that much time on the field. The play on the interior line is going to be where the real battle lies.”
Anderson expects to see a different Lovell team than the one they handled back in September.
“Lovell has just gotten better and better as the season has progressed,” he stated. “The biggest thing is you walk out there and you see how big they are. And they’re not just big kids, they’re athletic kids. And then they have speed to go with it. It’s a daunting task.”
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @wyovarsity