Tigers fall to Cougars in heartbreaker
The Mountain Home Tigers were hoping to end a 17-game losing skid Friday night when they took on the Caldwell Cougars for homecoming at Tiger Field. They had their chances, coming up with five Caldwell turnovers, but were only able to capitalize on one of them as they lost to the Cougars 28-26.
In an effort to jump-start their struggling offense, Mountain Home head football coach Aaron Rodney made some changes to his offensive set, which helped the Tigers score the first two times they had the ball.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff and moved the ball down the field 73 yards in 12 plays, scoring on an 18-yard run by Jake Ryan. The point-after try by Jack Richelieu was good and the Tigers led 7-0 with 6:53 left to go in the first quarter.
Caldwell answered quickly with a 90-yard three-play drive, Josh Lopez hooking up with Devan Elkington on a 76-yard touchdown pass. The PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 5:35 left in the first quarter.
Mountain Home mixed up the pass and run successfully on its second possession and went 65 yards in six plays, Ben Ceccarelli hitting Malcolm Freer on a 20-yard touchdown strike. The PAT was blocked but the Tigers led 13-7 with 2:56 left in the first quarter.
Caldwell responded with a scoring drive of its own, going 70 yards in 11 plays. Josh Lopez took it in from one yard out. The Cougar PAT was good and Caldwell led 14-13 with 9:56 left in the half.
Caldwell forced a punt on Mountain Home's next possession. The punt was blocked and the Cougars took over on the Tiger 15-yard line. Two plays later, Cameron Gabiola-Weitz took it in from four yards out, then booted the PAT to put Caldwell up 21-13 with 7:24 left in the half. It was a lead they would take into the locker room at halftime.
Halftime festivities included the crowning of Ashley Sessions as Homecoming Queen.
Caldwell received the ball to start the third quarter and were moving it down the field when a crushing hit by Malik Whitfield on a pass play made the Cougar receiver cough up the ball, Jared Cantrell snatching it out of the air and running down the sidelines 90 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers tried running for two to tie the game, but failed, and it was 21-19 Caldwell with 8:39 left to go in the third quarter.
The Cougars managed to move the ball into Mountain Home territory on their next possession before the Mountain Home defense held and took the ball over on downs on the Tiger 35. Two plays later, the Tigers fumbled the ball and Caldwell recovered at the Mountain Home 18. Caldwell then took it in for a score, Josh Lopez passing to Lauren Walker for an 18-yard touchdown. The PAT made it 28-19, Cougars, with 4:18 left to go in the third quarter.
Mountain Home got a good kickoff return by Malik Whitfield to the Caldwell 35-yard line. A first down to keep the drive alive was called back on a holding penalty and the Tigers were forced to punt the ball back to Caldwell, pinning them down at the Cougar six-yard line.
Caldwell committed three penalties and were forced to punt back to the Tigers, Mountain Home getting the ball on the Cougar 33-yard line.
The Tigers got the ball down to the 20 on a pass to Michael Daniels. Ryan Eckstrom then ran it in from there for six points. Jack Richelieu booted the PAT to bring Mountain Home back to within two, 28-26, with 10:37 left in the ball game.
On Caldwell's next possession, the Cougars fumbled the ball and the Tigers recovered at the Cougar 47, but turned the ball back to Caldwell on downs at the Cougar 28 with 4:19 left.
Again, the Tigers forced a fumble and Mountain Home recovered at the Cougar 21-yard line, with 3:33 left.
Mountain Home managed to get to the 17, where on fourth down, Jack Richelieu booted a 34-yard field goal that would have given the Tigers the lead, but a penalty on the Tigers moved the ball back to the 22. Richelieu had the distance on the 39-yard field goal attempt, but it veered left of the goal post -- barely.
Caldwell then took over with 1:54 left in the game and was able to pick up a first down and run out the clock to escape with a 28-26 win.
"The kids played awfully hard, and I think they left it on the field. (They) did everything we asked them to do," said Coach Rodney in post-game comments. "Obviously we'd have liked to get (the win). There are things that we probably could have done better, but it was tough, it was rough. The kids really wanted it, but we came up a little short."
Mountain Home had some better numbers this week offensively.
The Tigers rushed the ball 36 times for 140 yards. Ryan Eckstrom had 14 rushes for 69 yards and a score. Michael Daniels had 54 yards on 12 touches. Jake Ryan had one carry for 18 yards and a touchdown, Tanner Sessions carried five times for five yards and Ben Ceccarelli had minus six yards on four carries.
Ceccarelli completed seven of 13 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Michael Daniels and Tyler Elliott both caught three passes. Daniels had 43 yards in receptions, Elliott 28. Malcolm Freer caught one pass for 20 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Jared Cantrell and Malik Whitfield both were in on six tackles. Cantrell had a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a tackle for loss and Whitfield forced a fumble. Danny Brescia had five tackles, and Solomon Chung-Hee, Ryan Eckstrom and Jaime Martinez all had four tackles. Chung-Hee recovered a fumble. Michael Daniels had three tackles and picked off a pass. Joseph Guerrero had two tackles and a fumble recovery.
Mountain Home dropped to 0-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference with the loss. The Tigers play at Nampa on Friday.
"We're going up there and I believe it's their homecoming," said Coach Rodney, "so it's another situation where we're kind of in about the same boat as them.
"We'll do the same things we're doing and we'll keep fighting and keep playing hard and one of these days the ball is going to bounce our way.
"We're doing things right and the kids are doing the best they can. We're getting after it the best we can and we're excited for another opportunity to play. It's a good atmosphere, and it should be a lot of fun."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at the Bulldog Bowl at Nampa High School.