The stands at Bearcat Stadium were packed with screaming fans, particularly those in the student section, who got their first taste of home football midway through the season for homecoming.
Seniors from football, cross country, golf and cheer teams were honored and homecoming royalty was named prior to kickoff, setting the stage for an electric night of football against Douglas’ top competition in the conference in the form of the Lander Valley Tigers.
After a hard-fought defensive battle, the game was stuck at a stalemate. The score was 13-13, with little to no offense from either team after Lander tied the game earlier in the half on an impressive field goal from kicker Matisse Weaver.
Eventually, Douglas was able to claw its way to the redzone, but the Cats faced a fourth and three. Instead of kicking the potential go-ahead field goal, head coach Jay Rhoades decided to go for it. Then, his team was stuffed on a run play, giving the ball back to Lander with just 1:36 to go.
“We haven’t been really strong kicking the ball this year,” Rhoades said. “We just felt that with what time was on the clock that even if we kick it and are up by three, they have an amazing kicker that could easily tie it up if they broke off a big play and could set him up.
“At that point, we believed we had a stronger chance at getting the first down, run the clock, and still score.”
Lander unfortunately lost its best player Jack Sweeney on the first play of the drive, and Douglas capitalized quickly, forcing a three-and-out and forcing the Tigers to punt.
The Tigers stayed away from explosive punt returner Rylan Wehr all night, but Douglas coach Wes Gamble decided to put another returner back to force Landers hand.
Wehr fielded a bounced ball and took off, breaking tackles and juking out defenders for a phenomenal run all the way down to the five-yard line.
“The punter, I think, was just trying to get it off quickly since he was kicking from his own endzone,” Rhoades said. “We got a lucky bounce and it went right to Wehr, and, once he gets the ball in his hands, he can do some amazing things.”
Douglas took advantage of the great field position and leaned on Ewing to pound the ball in to the endzone, fighting through would-be tackles and reaching the nose of the ball over the goal line for a dramatic go-ahead touchdown.
“I can’t take all the credit for myself,” Ewing said. “Rylan (Wehr) brought it all the way down, but I was able to finish it, and I’m pretty happy about that.”
From there, all the Cats had to do was close out on defense, an easy enough feat for the team which only allowed one passing completion the entire game.
The fans and sideline went crazy as the clock struck zero and Douglas won another game, its fourth in a row to start the season.
“We just have a bunch of dogs on our team,” quarterback Koby Case said in reference to the hard fought win. “We’re all brothers and love playing. It’s fun.”
Rhoades also said it was good for the team to win a game like this, after easily defeating their previous three opponents.
“The emotions of being in a tight, physical game was a good test for us. Lander hasn’t always been a big rival for us, but definitely in the last three since coach (John) Scott I think it has become one.
“I think it’s a game they kind of mark on their calendar. And, when we get ready to play Lander, we know we’re going to get their best.”
The rivalry was evident if you were watching, as it got chippy on both ends of the field. Each team exchanged some pushing and shoving on multiple occasions, with more than one flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“It was just football,” Ewing said. “Everyone can get frustrated and start getting a little aggressive.”
The schedule gets easier for the Bearcats in the second half of the season.
Douglas will host two of its final three games before the playoffs start, with games against Rawlins, Buffalo and Worland.
The three teams have combined for just three total wins thus far this season, and with the win over Lander, the team is in a prime position to come out as the number-one seed in the conference and host at least one playoff game, barring any upsets.
Despite the weaker competition the team faces, each game will be a conference game, and Rhoades is preaching to his team to treat each game like the conference championship.
“Every week is going to be that important. We can’t let up or have any slip ups.
“We don’t want to end up in a tie at the top of the conference and leave it up to a coin flip. We have to take matters into our own hands and really treat every week the same no matter the record of the team we play.”
Douglas will host the 0-6 Rawlins Outlaws Oct. 9 with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
The Outlaws are coming off a 42-6 loss to Worland and have struggled to score all season.
“Rawlins has been a struggling program for most of my tenure here,” Rhoades said. “They have an enthusiastic coaching staff with some young guys that are really trying to build something there.
“They’re not doing too good this year, but that doesn’t mean we have to let up. We have to find a way to continue to improve as a football team.
“Our focus isn’t just winning the game, it’s doing the things we need to do to become a better football team. The winning will take care of itself.”