It was a matter of too much size, too much experience, and too much of a running game in favor of the Lutheran West Longhorns.
With these advantages, Lutheran West overcame numerous miscues to take a non-conference 28-7 season-opening victory over the Fairview Park Warriors last Friday.
“Penalties killed us,” Longhorn Coach Frank Petroff said. “ We'd have a big play or get a turnover, but then we could not capitalize on it. If we're going to have any success this year, we're going to have to stop making those kind of mistakes.”
Both teams suffered from first-game mistakes. For the game, the 1-0 host Longhorns had 95 yards in penalties. They also had two fumbles, losing one, as well as having numerous dropped passes and missing a field goal due to a bad snap. Meanwhile, the 0-1 Warriors had 90 yards in penalties and lost a pair of fumbles and a pair of interceptions..
“We couldn't get a break in the first half,” Fairview Coach Dave Latkovic said. “Those penalties killed us. We just couldn't get out from behind the eight ball.”
Making things even more difficult for the Warriors was the 1-2 punch of Longhorn running backs Jonathan Bradley and Eddie Lewis. Lewis, who also had a fumble recovery and interception on defense, finished the night with 115 yards on 10 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown sprint in the final quarter to complete the scoring. Bradley was the workhorse, gaining 129 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
Quarterback Austin Kim had a tough first half, completing just four of 14 passes, one of which was an 18-yard touchdown. It was in those first 24 minutes when several of the passes were dropped.
“Austin has been a starter for us,” Petroff said, “With his experience, we expect big things out of him.”
And it was a pass from the senior quarterback to Noland Ragland that broke open a close game in the second half. With just nine seconds left in the third quarter, the speedy receiver broke open on the right sideline where Kim hit him for a 40-yard touchdown. The extra point by Hunter Albers gave the Longhorns a 21-7 advantage.
On the next drive, the Longhorns began showing their advantage in size by driving 57 yards in just four plays, capped by the 39-yard run by Lewis. Albers' kick gave Lutheran West the final 28-7 margin.
“We battled hard,” Latkovic said. “We just ran out of gas. Our tiny little guys just couldn't keep up with them. We played a lot of kids tonight that have never played a high school game before. We made a lot of mental errors.”
One of those mental errors came on the first drive of the game although it did not result in any score. Lutheran West punted, but the ball was muffed. Lewis recovered at the Fairview 47. The Longhorns, however, were not able to take advantage after a holding penalty stalled the drive.
Late in the first quarter, another Warrior miscue helped give the Longhorns an early 6-0 lead. Luke Sword intercepted a pass by Declan Jewitt, returning it 28 yards to the Fairview three. Three plays later, Bradley powered in for a three-yard scoring run on the final play of the quarter. The try-for-two, however, failed as the Longhorns took a 6-0 lead.
Two series later, the Warriors took the lead at 7-6 by driving 78 yards in 10 plays. The drive, which was helped by a 15-yard penalty, was capped by a 12-yard pass from Jewitt to Sean McNamara with 1:23 left in the first half.
That lead would not last long. After a short kickoff gave Lutheran West the ball at its own 42, the Longhorns drove the distance in eight plays. An 18-yard pass from Kim to Sword opened up a 12-7 advantage with just six second left. The two-point conversion run by Bradley gave the Longhorns the 14-7 halftime lead.
Both teams opened the second half with multiple mistakes with the teams combining for five drives in less than seven minutes. In fact, an interception by Sword set up Kim's scoring strike to Ragland late in the third quarter that opened up the 14-point Longhorn advantage.
The Longhorns finished with 224 yards rushing, while gaining an additional 102 yards passing. They had 17 first downs. The Warriors finished with 73 yards rushing and 52 passing. Kim finished completing seven of 19 passes. The leading rusher for the Warriors was Matt Kaufman, who had 47 yards on 12 carries.
“We never quit,” Latkovic said, “We're going to keep improving. We're going to trip up somebody along the way.”
The victory gave some revenge to the Longhorns after dropping a 30-22 season-ending game last year.
Fairview opens conference play Friday in the Great Lakes Conference with a 7 p.m. game at Normandy. Lutheran West, meanwhile, travels to non-conference foe Brookside, which lost its opener to Cloverleaf 55-0.
“If we're going to have any success,” Petroff said, “we'll have to play better. We need to eliminate our mistakes.”
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