The story of Friday night’s season opener in La Center is based largely around overcoming adversity — and it started before the first whistle blew.
The Ridgefield Spudders and the La Center Wildcats were about to kickoff the 2019 football season at La Center High School on Friday, Sept. 6 when a hole about a foot deep was discovered in the field. The game was delayed while it was filled with sand.
Later, there was a fire in the grill at the concession stand.
Meanwhile, at halftime, things weren’t going much better for the Wildcats.
The score was tied at the end of the first quarter after a 44-yard run by Ridgefield’s senior running back Hunter Abrams and a 23-yard connection from La Center junior quarterback Tom Lambert to junior tight end Micah Adams. The teams exchanged touchdowns again in the second quarter: Ridgefield’s Luke Price found track star and first-time varsity football player Trey Knight for a 34-yard touchdown and La Center tied it up at 14 with a 10-yard run by Tom Lambert with less than six minutes to play in the half.
That’s when the wheels fell off for La Center.
A few plays after the Wildcats recovered a fumble in Spudders’ territory, the ball popped loose and Abrams scooped it up and ran 30-yards home. Not long after, Knight picked up another fumble by the Wildcats and ran 92 yards to put the Spudders up 28-14.
But it seems two costly turnovers leading to a 14-point deficit at halftime was exactly what the Wildcats needed.
La Center’s defense came out of the locker room and turned the burner to high on the Spudders, holding them scoreless through the rest of the game. On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats’ offense did its part to secure a victory on the ground.
Tom Lambert ran it in from three yards out in the third and then from four in the fourth; Bryten Schmitz gave the Wildcats a 35-28 lead off of a 13-yard run with less than two minutes left in the game — that’s where the score would stand.
Although La Center’s staff and volunteers might feel differently about holes in the field and sky-high flames, La Center head coach John Lambert said facing adversity early in the season is exactly what his boys need.
“We want adversity — this is what it’s about,” the 21-year La Center coaching veteran said after the game. “Moments like this will help us later down the road. If we had won 35 nothing, we’d have learned nothing today.”
Though giving up 14 points on turnovers to end a half can be dishearting, Lambert said the team did a great job thinking clearly at halftime and identifying the changes they needed to make. Most notably, he said they corrected issues with gap integrity, plugging up some of the holes on their frontline the Spudders were blasting through in the first half.
Tom Lambert: 145 yards rushing including three touchdowns; 114 passing including one touchdown.
Bryten Schmitz: 92 yards rushing including one touchdown.
Andrew Scott: 134 yards receiving.
Hunter Abrams: 68 yards rushing including one touchdown; one defensive touchdown.
Luke Price: 152 yards passing including one touchdown.