TORRINGTON — For three quarters of football last Saturday, the 2A State Championship game between Lyman and Torrington was a defensive chess match, with neither team allowing the other to mount an offensive attack.
But with just over 10 minutes left in regulation, the Eagles (11-1) — trailing the host team 3-0 heading into the fourth quarter — relied on what got them to this point: Their running game. After a huge stop by the Lyman defense on a Torrington 4th and 1, senior Preston Brewer broke loose for a 37-yard touchdown run, giving the Eagles their first lead of the contest.
A costly turnover by the Trailblazers (8-3) on their next possession gave Lyman the ball back, and, after converting a 4th and long on the Blazers’ 28-yard line, the Eagles’ Carter Smith scored from five yards out, giving Lyman a 14-3 lead. That ended up as the final score, with the Eagles winning their first 2A state title since 2012, their fifth in school history.
“They [Torrington] were a really good team,” said LHS head coach Dale Anderson. “They came out with a good defensive plan against us. We struggled a bit early that way, but finally found some stuff later in the game that worked, luckily.”
The game was a defensive battle from the start, and remained that way for much of the first half. The Blazers finally worked themselves into scoring position as time ticked away in the second quarter — a pass interference call in the end zone set Torrington’s offense up nicely at the Lyman 12-yard line with under a minute to play in the half.
The Eagles’ defense held tough, however, and the Blazers had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Chase Miller. Torrington went into the locker room with a tenuous 3-0 lead.
“The way our defense was this year, we always knew that if we could be close at halftime, we had a shot,” Anderson said. “Our defense was pretty tough. They were what we rallied around all year, and it’s a lot of the same kids on offense and defense. But we finally found some things that worked — I think we wore them down a little bit.”
Unaccustomed to trailing at halftime, the Eagles stayed focused and poised, according to their head coach.
“At halftime, our defensive coach told the guys, ‘Hey, we’re where we need to be. They got one on us — they’re not getting any more,’” Anderson said. “And our kids — there was never a sense of pressure or tension. They came out fairly relaxed for the second half, with an attitude of, ‘Hey, we can do this. Let’s keep plugging away.’ And that’s the same formula we’ve used all year.”
The two teams traded scoreless possessions in the third quarter, before Lyman found an offensive rhythm to start the final frame.
“We’re a run-heavy team, so we just kept running the same stuff we had been the whole game,” Anderson explained. “We just got a little better at executing in that fourth quarter, getting the ball to people we knew could do something with it — using motion to get the eyes of the defense moving a little bit.”
After rising to every challenge Lyman threw at them, the Blazers’ defense finally showed signs of fatigue in the fourth.
“We tried to stay true to who we were, just do it a little better,” Anderson said. “I think we might have worn them down a little bit, which never hurts us.”
Torrington’s turnover on downs at the start of the fourth quarter gave Lyman the ball on their own 39-yard line. First-down runs by Brewer and Smith brought the Eagles into Blazers’ territory, and on 1st and 10, Brewer found a seam, scampering 38 yards for the go-ahead score with under 10 minutes to play.
“Talking with my offensive coach up in the booth, I said, ‘What do we have to do? Nothing is working,’” Anderson said. “He just kept saying, ‘Hey, we’re all right. Just keep doing what we’re doing.’ We changed some formations, used some motion. We tried to stay relaxed, and it paid off.”
Lyman’s momentum carried into Torrington’s subsequent drive, with the Blazers turning the ball over on their own 24-yard line. Smith scored the Eagles’ second touchdown a few plays later, and Lyman left Torrington with a win — and a state title — at 14-3.
Torrington fought hard, but with the loss of starting quarterback Beau Bivens — injured in the Blazers’ semifinal win over Mountain View — the home team was unable to move the ball as effectively as they had throughout the postseason.
“Torrington was missing their quarterback, which was a big loss for them,” Anderson said. “We knew their ability to pass the ball wasn’t going to be as good as it had been in previous games. That’s unfortunate for them, and I feel bad that was the case. But that’s the game, teams have injuries.”
The Eagles’ defense held Torrington to just 113 total yards of offense, and Anderson was quick to heap praise on his defensive front four — Joe Turner, Hansen Bradshaw, Rho Mecham and Brewer.
“Our defensive line, that front four group — they’ve been our go-to guys on defense all year,” he said. “They’re also the guys that are blocking and making holes for us on the offensive side of things. That group has always been pretty solid, from beginning to end, especially defensively. They cause a lot of problems, and they’re hard to handle.”
Lyman finished with 231 yards of offense, led by Brewer, who rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Under center, Smith rushed for 79 yards and a score; he completed just one pass in the game, a 19-yard strike to Chevy Fackrell.
“Preston Brewer had a good game running the ball again,” Anderson said. “Carter Smith was our quarterback — he hurt his thumb early in the game, so he was having a hard time being able to throw like he usually does. But he ran hard as well. Those guys — along with all our linemen and tight end and fullback — they all did a phenomenal job.”
Nine Lyman seniors ended their high school careers as state champions — Jett Dickerson, Smith, Brewer, Braxton Sabey, MJ Richardson, Joe Turner, Hansen Bradshaw, Ryan Christopherson and MJ Micheal.
“We’ll lose a pretty good group of nine seniors,” Anderson said. “They’re such a great group of kids — really high character, high quality kids. It’s fun to watch them have that success, because they’re such good kids.”
The 2020 football season was unique, in that coaches and players were unsure if they’d even have a season because of COVID-19 — let alone see it through to the end.
“We talked to the kids almost weekly about that,” Anderson said. “You just never know when it could be over. The last game you played, you have to be able to live with that as potentially your last game ever. I’m sure a lot of coaches have been talking to their kids that way — you have to maximize every opportunity, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Anderson said his players embraced the idea that the season could be pulled away from them at any moment, and played accordingly.
“As coaches and kids, you never want to live with that regret that my last moment was not my best moment,” he said. “Luckily, the state did a great job of keeping things going, and allowing us to have that opportunity. We’re grateful to all the people that made it possible, and we’re glad it worked out the way it did.”
With the Eagles’ win last Saturday, three of the last four 2A State Champions have come out of the Bridger Valley — Mountain View won in 2017 and 2019, and played for the title in 2018. Anderson said it’s a source of pride that the road to the title each year runs through the valley.
“There has been some good football played here,” he said. “I’ve been here nine years, and most years both us and Mountain View have had teams in the playoffs. There’s some good ball that gets played in the valley, and that’s something we take a lot of pride in.”