It didn’t take long for Midland football fans who made the trip to Lone Tree for the Eagles’ week-zero game against the perennially powerful Lions’ program Friday, Aug. 20, to immediately get goose bumps.
As the Midland team lined up to deliver the game’s opening kick-off, the PA announcer broadcast to everyone in attendance that Lincoln Gravel would be doing the kicking for the Eagles.
Gravel, who tragically died in a car accident almost two months ago to the day of the Midland football season-opener, was a star kicker for the Eagle program and is being honored by not only being named the starting kicker Friday night, but with patches on the Midland football uniforms and coaches caps this fall that read ‘50LG’.
A few minutes later, the Eagle boys would honor their fallen teammate with another spectacular performance.
“Obviously, we couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season than scoring a touchdown on our first play from scrimmage,” said Midland football coach Lennie Miller, as lightning struck immediately for the Eagle offense when running back Brayden Grau shook off several Lone Tree tackle attempts before breaking free for a spectacular 58-yard touchdown run down the Midland sideline.
“Brayden has some wheels on him, doesn’t he? That was an amazing run for a kid who spent the off-season dedicating himself to getting faster and stronger, and he sure looked all of that not only in that first play of the game, but all night long really. “
After Zain Sauer hauled in two-point conversion pass from quarterback Caden Ballou, the Eagles had a quick 8-0 lead.
Unfortunately, it would be the lone score for the Midland team in the contest that ended with a 22-8 defeat.
“We were already down four guys coming into this game, so we couldn’t afford any more guys being taken off the field, but then on the game’s first play defensively Caden rolled his ankle and wasn’t able to play on that side of the football for the rest of the night,” Miller said. “He battled through the pain and was still able to play quarterback for us, but when we were on defense, Caden was on the bench icing that ankle all game long.”
Even with so many key pieces missing from both sides of the football, the Eagles (0-1) still managed to hang tough all game long trailing just 16-8 entering the final frame before a Lone Tree touchdown with 7:10 to play sealed the outcome.
“After scoring that touchdown, we were able to move the football and gain some yards, but we just couldn’t finish drives off with scores,” Miller said. “In the end we just struggled due to the people we didn’t have.
“But the kids who were out there sure fought and gave us a chance. That’s one of the real positives I took from this game. We got some guys some playing time that they may not have normally had, and I think they took advantage of that opportunity. We were right there in the fourth quarter trailing by only one score. We had a chance, and that’s all you can ask for.”
After Grau’s long touchdown scamper gave the visitors an 8-0 lead at the 7:12 mark of the first quarter, the good vibes immediately continued for the Eagles who recovered a Lone Tree fumble on the ensuing kick-off.
“Everything was going right there early in the game,” Miller said. “I think if we could have scored another touchdown on that drive after the Lone Tree fumble, this game could have looked very different.”
Lone Tree’s defense held the Midland offense out of the end zone taking over at the Lions’ own 10-yard-line.
The hosts scored their first touchdown with 3:14 remaining in the first half when powerful Lion fullback Tyler Bell blasted into the end zone from six-yards out.
After a successful two-point conversion, the game was tied 8-8, which is where it stayed through the half and into the third quarter when Lone Tree took a lead they would not lose taking advantage of a dropped Midland punt attempt. Four plays later the hosts were back in the end zone as Bell scored on a three-yard run to hand the Lions a 16-8 advantage.
“When Lone Tree started keying on our running game, we tried to pass the football but we just couldn’t keep the flags off the turf,” Miller said. “Penalties really hurt us, and made it very tough to come back.”
The Eagles managed 190 yards of total offense in the game, with 150 of it coming on the ground as Grau rushed for 94 yards on 12 carries while Ballou added 36 more on 10 attempts.
Ballou completed 10-of-22 passes for 40 yards through the air as Grau snared four passes while Jon Thomsen hauled in three more.
Midland’s defense was also busy, as Sauer’s 18 tackles led the team while he, Grau and Ty Jensen all tallied quarterback sacks. Grau also posted double-digit tackle numbers with 10 while Shayden Hansen added eight more as the visitors limited the Lion offense to 224 total yards.
“Our goal coming in was to be explosive, and at the start I thought we did a great job of being exactly that, even with us being down so many kids,” Miller said. “When we couldn’t do what we wanted to do, the stalemate factor settled in and we struggled getting past that.”