Bear Lake wins at Baldwin's expense

Bob Watkins
Bob Watkins

By Brian Fogg

Pioneer Sports Network

BRETHREN — Bear Lake football was able to celebrate a win for the first time in school history, in front of its home fans, after wearing Baldwin down in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers scored 28 points in the fourth to defeat the Panthers 44-28 in their home opener at Brethren High School Friday night.

“It means so much,” Bear Lake quarterback Travis Johnson said. “Before the game we didn’t know what to expect. We saw the score from last week with Baldwin against (Grand Traverse Academy, 70-0), and we had to keep our heads up. We had to try as hard as we could. I’m so proud of all these guys. We came out and we fought, we played and we battled.

“We were all dead tired, but we had to give it all we had.”

The two teams played very different week one games, with Bear Lake falling by 40 points and Baldwin winning by 70, but Friday was a different story.

“To come back like they did from a good team to another good team, and to not give up, because this game see-sawed back-and-forth (is big). They continued to battle,” Bear Lake head coach John Prokes said.

Early in the game Baldwin running back Blake Dockery went down with an injury, changing the Panthers’ play calling a little bit.

“You never practice for that sort of thing,” Baldwin head coach Robert Watkins said. “You’re hoping to have your premier athlete the whole game. Then our quarterback (Ryan Kolenbrander) went down, but our second quarterback did a good job. We had to move people around and some people were out of position.”

The Lakers were able to strike first after Daniel Aguilar picked up a fumble in the end zone with 5 minutes left in the 1st to go up 8-0. On the next possession Reagan Merrill scored the first of his 3 touchdowns on a 10-yard sweep to the right side to put Bear Lake up 16-0 midway through the 2nd.

Baldwin saw that Bear Lake was playing to stop the option from getting to the edge, and began running the ball up the middle with Armondo Jennings. Jennings rumbled through a series of Laker defenders on the next drive for a 39-yard touchdown run that he broke down the left side of the field to trail 16-8.

Before the half the Panthers had a 13 play 63 yard drive down inside the one yard line, created mostly off of running the football, but a goal-line stand from the Lakers helped them take a lead into the half.

Bear Lake’s Dane Mertes and Shane Bishop stopped Baldwin quarterback Ryan Kolenbrander in the backfield as time expired.

“That was huge for us,” Prokes said. “You always hope your defense can step up because that’s going to give you that motivation and inspiration to carry it over to offense. That stop carried us into the second half.”

After running inside for a majority of the first half the Panthers were able to break it outside with a 50-yard run from Ahmad Gorman to tie the game at 16 near the end of the 3rd quarter.

The Lakers were able to wear Baldwin down in the final quarter starting with a 24-yard run from Merrill for a touchdown at the beginning of the quarter, where he had to juke a Panther defender in the backfield to break loose. The touchdown put Bear Lake up 24-16 with 9 minutes left.

A Baldwin fumble set up another Laker touchdown only 2 minutes later with Travis Johnson scrambling for 25 yards to go up 30-16.

The Panthers didn’t waste much time responding as Shaundel Dukes caught a 52-yard pass only 14 second later to keep his team in the game at 30-22.

On Bear Lake’s third play on the next possession Merrill broke loose for yet another touchdown on a 48-yard pitch down the left sideline to go up 36-22 with 5 minutes remaining.

Baldwin’s quick-strike offense responded again 35 seconds after getting the ball back when Gorman ran in a 6-yard run to pull back with 8.

“They gave us the middle because they were afraid of our speed,” Watkins said. “We took advantage of it. It’s just seems like we ran out of gas.”

Only 20 seconds after the Panthers scored, Bear Lake came back after a 53-yard run from Johnson sealed the first win in school history for the Lakers. Johnson’s touchdown put Bear Lake up 44-28 with 4 minutes left, which was all they needed.

“One of the things we do is really focus on conditioning,” Prokes said. “In 8-man football we tell these guys that they are going to have to go both ways. They’re going to have to outlast the other team. I think some of our conditioning has paid off a little bit.”

“There were some missed tackles, and again, that happens when you’re dealing with fatigue,” Watkins said. “Some of our young guys had to play and they weren’t ready for it mentally. We have some work to do, but it’s just game two.”

On Friday, Baldwin (1-1, 0-1) will visit Mesick (0-2).