Laurel tops Custer County in nail biter

By: 
CHRIS MCCONNELL
Outlook staff writer
Ethan Renner dodges a tackle to pick up an easy first down during the Locomotives victory over Custer County on Saturday night. Laurel fell behind 12-0 early in the game before they stormed back and grabbed a 34-30 victory.
Ethan Renner dodges a tackle to pick up an easy first down during the Locomotives victory over Custer County on Saturday night. Laurel fell behind 12-0 early in the game before they stormed back and grabbed a 34-30 victory.

Anyone who lamented missing the Alabama/Florida State game on television Saturday night couldn’t have been disappointed after watching the epic battle that saw the Locos defense come on strong in the closing seconds to beat conference rival Custer County 34-30 at Laurel Sports Complex.
Miles City struck first on their opening drive with junior Tristan Hirsch running the ball to the Laurel 25-yard line on several plays, before senior quarterback Gabe Gundlach connected with Zach Dinardi on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 7:18 left in the first. The snap was bobbled on the extra point and the Cowboys had a 6-0 lead.
Laurel Head Coach Mike Ludwig said he was concerned how the team would respond to size and strength of the Cowboys, and admitted he was a little nervous after the first drive.
“I told the kids they needed to respond and make some plays.”
Laurel started their first drive on the 20 and after a false start penalty, Miles City’s Jess Bellows picked off Gage Hull’s pass and returned it to Laurel’s 16-yard line. On third-and-7 from the 12, Custer County track star, Keith Vanderlaan, carried it to the 1 for a first-and-goal. He was injured on the play and wasn’t a factor the rest of the game. A quarterback sneak added six more for the Cowboys. After the Locos stopped the 2-point conversion attempt, they were down 12-0 with 4:37 left in the first.
The kickoff was fumbled by Laurel but they recovered it and went three-and-out and were forced to punt. Laurel’s defense held and Custer County punted as the first quarter ended.
Ethan Renner broke off a 31-yard run to get a much needed first down on their first series of the second quarter, but they couldn’t advance it any farther, turning the ball over on downs.
The Cowboy’s Hirsch continued to chip away at the yardage with two runs for first downs until Laurel’s defense stopped them on a fourth-and-3.
Coach Ludwig had said he needed some kids to make some big plays and Deklan Harper was the first to step up.
With 5:57 left in the second, Harper got the Locos on the board with an explosive 83-yard TD reception. The PAT was no good but the Locos had cut the lead in half.
The Loco defense decided to make their own noise on the Cowboy’s next possession when Kanyin Moran sacked Gundlach for a 9-yard loss. After a delay of game penalty, the Loco defense got their second consecutive sack. On third-and-24, they forced a fumble and defensive lineman Conner Berg recovered it, giving the Locos a first down on the Cowboy’s 22.
Hull dropped back deep and connected with Gaje Leischner on a TD pass to tie the game at 12-12 with 2:54 left in the half. The pass attempt fell incomplete on the 2-point conversion.
Miles City started their final drive of the half on their own 43. On third-and-4, Hirsch connected with Kip Krebsbach on a 48-yard pass, then punched it in from the 2 to reclaim the lead 18-12. Moran stuffed the runner on the 2-point attempt and Laurel was unable to answer when the half ended.
Laurel started the second half on the 35 after the Cowboy kick went out of bounds. On third-and-5, Hull was picked off by Krebsbach at the 37.
Miles City was driving and looking to score when defensive lineman Kolter McLaughlin made a key stop on the 6-yard line. They attempted a pass to the end zone on fourth-and-6 when Harper made another huge play; he intercepted the pass and ran it 60 yards to the Cowboy’s 40.
A personal foul for roughing the passer gained the Locos 15 yards and got them a first down on the 23. A complete pass netted another first down. On second-and-goal, Hull connected with Harper to tie the score at 18. Leischner caught a pass for a successful 2-point conversion and at 6:21 in the third quarter Laurel had their first lead, 20-18.
Laurel tried the onside kick and nearly got it as the ball went out of bounds. The Cowboys started the drive on the Laurel 46. On third-and-5, Gundlach connected with Krebsbach on a 37-yard TD bomb to retake the lead 20-24. The Laurel defensive stopped the 2-point conversion.
The Locos offense found their groove on the next drive, scoring in less than a minute.
They started on their own 30 and drove the ball 70 yards in three plays on a 12-yard run from Noah Gunther, a 43 yard reception by Harper and a 15-yard Gunther TD run. Gunther push the ball in on the conversion and Laurel reclaimed the lead, 28-24 with 3:36 left in the 3rd.
Vanderlaan returned to the the game on the ensuing kickoff and had a nice return to the Laurel 42, but was limping noticeably when he left the field.
On third-and-2, Cameron Clark recovered a Cowboy fumble, but the Locos went three-and-out and were forced to punt as time expired in the third quarter.
On a Cowboy second-and-10 from their own 29, Gundlach was nearly sacked but spun out of it and made an athletic first down run. The play was called back after he was flagged for taunting. After an incomplete pass, Miles City was forced to punt.
On the Locos drive, Gunther took a hard hit on a completion for a 1-yard gain, bringing up third-and-11. He recovered quickly and pushed it 11 yards on the next play, which brought out the chains and gave them a key first down. On second-and-13 from the Cowboy 31, Ethan Renner broke free on a 31-yard TD run with 4:45 left in the game. Harper couldn’t hang on to the 2-pt conversion pass and Laurel extended the lead to 10 points; 34-24.
With 3:26 left, Gundlach connected on a 42-yard TD pass to keep the Cowboys alive, 34-30.
Laurel recovered a Cowboy onside kick attempt and managed a first down on a Clark run. The drive stalled after a Locos face mask penalty put them at third-and-long. They ran the ball on third-and-27 to set up a punt and Miles City got the ball back at their own 36 with 1:21 left in the game.
After Gundlach picked up 8 on a first-and-10 run. He dropped back to pass but lineman Berg was all over him. He threw the ball away to avoid the sack and was called for intentional grounding. On third-and-13 he completed a 12-yard pass to Zack Dinardi, bringing up a fourth-and-1 on Laurel’s 44 with 0:46 left in the game.
Laurel’s defense had a defining moment when they jarred the ball loose on a Gundlach run. Miles City recovered it, but lost several yards, resulting in a turnover on downs.
Laurel took a knee to remain unbeaten with the thrilling 34-30 victory.
Ludwig said the coaching staff didn’t change much of the game plan after the Locos went down 12-0.
“We did get into the Bobcat defense so there were five guys on the line instead of three, but we mostly stuck with what we worked on in practice,” he said.
“The sweeps worked well and we had good pass protection. Gage [Hull] made some good throws and Ethan [Renner] had a nice game. This was a big win for the kids and we believe we can play with just about anyone in the state.”
This week the Locos are preparing for a long road trip up to Havre to meet the 0-2 Blue Ponies.
“Havre is struggling this year, but we are focusing on ourselves and taking it one game at a time. We have a short week so we are focusing on our glaring mistakes and encouraging better discipline and responsibility [from the players] during the week” Ludwig said.

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