LOVELOCK — The game was there for the taking, but Dayton High was unable to capitalize on the momentum it had briefly gained.
After Austin Fletcher’s 82-yard touchdown run cut Lovelock’s lead to 13-10 late in the third quarter, it looked like it would be a battle to the finish.
The Mustangs had other ideas, however. They scored on their next three possessions en route to a season-opening 33-16 win over the Dust Devils at Joe Yanni Field on Friday night. The game was moved to Lovelock because of smoke in the area from the Rim fire.
“We’re about where I figured we’d be,” Dayton coach Rob Turner said. “It was such a weird week (because of the poor air quality). You can’t tackle in the gym. You can’t punt or kick off in the gym. I don’t think our special teams were all that bad. I thought the defense played well most of the game.”
The special teams did make two mistakes.
The first came after Fletcher’s big run. Jacob Flores broke loose on the ensuing kick-off, returning the ball inside the Dayton 5. Fortunately for Dayton an illegal block pushed the ball back to the 39. Lovelock needed just six plays to punch it in, however, as sophomore Jared Brinkerhoff scored from the 2-yard line to make it 20-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The second gaffe came on the ensuing series.
On fourth-and-3 from the Dayton 42, the snap from center sailed over the head of punter Benji Ply, who picked up the ball and managed to complete a pass to Jack Phillips. However, Phillips fumbled the ball at his own 23 for a 19-yard loss.
Four plays later, on a fourth-and-5 play from the Dayton 18, Lovelock quarterback Randolph McLean threw a pass high toward the end zone. Andrew Dickerman went up and took the ball away from Dayton’s Dallon Medoza in the end zone to make it 27-10 with 7:50 left in the game.
It was the third Dayton turnover of the game, and the Dust Devils would add one more before it was over.
“Turnovers are always a game changer,” Turner said. “As a team we had committed to make less turnovers because turnovers have hurt us the last two years.”
The Dust Devils’ fourth turnover came on the next series, as Davis Winebarger (8-for-13, 137 yards) threw his third pick of the game. Kameron Smokey picked it off and returned it to Dayton’s 39, setting up Brinkerhoff’s 14-yard scoring run to make it 33-10.
“The last pass he telegraphed it,” Turner said. “I’ve already talked to him about that last one. There is stuff he has to work on. He’s going to be good. He’s a really smart kid, a student of the game. He wants to get better.”
Fletcher scored his second TD of the game, returning the ensuing kick-off 78 yards to make it 33-16.
“He wasn’t even supposed to be back there,” Turner said.
“There was just a lane up the middle,” Fletcher said.
This was a game of missed opportunities for the Dust Devils, and it started in the first quarter.
After Jesus Castaneda recovered a Flores fumble at the Lovelock 42, the Dust Devils turned it over on downs at the Lovelock 16. Dayton’s Ian Hopper recovered a McLean fumble at the Lovelock 28 on the next series, and again the Dust Devils failed to capitalize as Winebarger’s red-zone pass was intercepted by Smokey.
“We stalled out,” Turner said. “We had trouble running up the middle. Nothing was there.”
That was never more evident than the opening drive of the second half when the Dust Devils, trailing 6-0, settled for a 19-yard field by Ply after driving down to the 1. Twice Fletcher was stopped for no gain at the 2.
“We argued a little bit (about whether to kick it or go for it),” Turner said. “I thought it was important for us to do. We haven’t kicked a field goal for several years.”
Lovelock scored on the ensuing drive for a 13-3 lead, setting the stage for Fletcher’s (14 carries, 132 yards).
After being stopped for no gain on the first down of the drive, Fletcher took a pitch from Winebarger and started right. He cut it back to the left and was off to the races.
“It was supposed to go right,” Fletcher said. “I saw a big hole and cut it back to the left. I only had to beat one guy. Nobody was there.” “If we block the sweep right, we can score every time we run it,” Turner said. “We’ve had good success with that play.”