"We're a work in progress. We've got a long way to go, but we are making progress," has been a common comment by Mountain Home Tigers head football coach Aaron Rodney each week, talking about his young Mountain Home Tiger football team.
"We've got to play four quarters." Another regular comment by Coach Rodney. Now, as, his Tigers continue to improve, it's become, "We've got to play 48 minutes."
For the first time all season, Rodney's Tigers played hard for four quarters, but did not necessarily play 48 minutes, and the resulting big plays were enough to keep the Tigers from picking up their first win of the season as they came up big on paper, but fell a bit short on the scoreboard, losing to the Kuna Kavemen 28-20 Friday night at Tiger Field.
With a bye week behind them, during which time they tweaked their offense, the Tigers came out with an impressive opening drive, going 58 yards in seven plays, Ben Ceccarelli passing 27 yards to Michael Daniels for a touchdown. The point-after try was blocked, but Mountain Home led 6-0 with 9:24 left in the first quarter.
Spencer Trautman ran back the kickoff 52 yards to the Mountain Home 21-yard line, giving the Kavemen a short field to work with on their opening drive. Trautman capped off a four-play, 21-yard drive with a two-yard run. With the PAT, Kuna led 7-6 with 7:40 left to go in the first quarter.
Mountain Home's next drive had success until it stalled at the Kuna 18, where the Kavemen took over on downs. Malcolm Freer picked off Kayden Votroubek on the first play, giving the Tigers the ball at the Kuna 36. Mountain Home got into the red zone to the Kavemen's 16-yard line, before a penalty killed the drive and pushed it back at the Kuna 34.
Mountain Home dominated play in the first half, racking up 169 total yards in the first half to just 33 for Kuna, but still trailed at halftime, 7-6.
Kuna received the ball to start the second half, and another good kickoff return put them at the Mountain Home 33-yard line to start their first offensive series. The Kavemen moved the ball down and had a first and goal from the Tiger three-yard line, before Mountain Home called a timeout. The Tiger defense rose up and stopped the Kavemen. taking over on downs at the two-yard line.
Mountain Home had a good opening drive going, moving from their two-yard line into Kuna territory inside the Kaveman 40-yard line, before a fumble was recovered by Kuna and returned to the Mountain Home nine-yard line.
On the first play, Randy Emery took it the nine yards for the score, and with the PAT, Kuna led 14-6, with 4:18 left to go in the third quarter.
The Tigers next drive was looking good until the Kavemen intercepted a pass and took over on their own 24. Kayden Votroubek then connected with Landon Croft on a 76-yard scoring strike and Kuna led 21-6, as the third quarter came to a close.
After the Tigers had a rare three-and-out on their next possession, Kuna took it 54 yards on seven plays, Randy Emery scoring from a yard out. The Kavemen led 28-6 with 7:04 left in the ball game.
Mountain Home responded on its next possession, Michael Daniels taking the snap out of the "Wildcat" formation and ran 66 yards for a score. The two-point conversion failed, but the Tigers were on the scoreboard again, trailing 28-12, with 6:40 left in the game.
Malcolm Freer intercepted another Kuna pass and the Tigers were back in business. They managed to get to the Kuna 20 before a penalty and a sack led to the Kavemen taking the ball over on downs.
The Tiger defense held and forced a punt, and Michael Daniels took it at the Tiger 35, and set up his blocks, weaving his way 65 yards for a touchdown on a punt return. Ryan Eckstrom ran in the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to 28-20 with 43.8 seconds left.
There was a personal foul penalty on Kuna on the two-point conversion play, and then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against the Kuna coaching staff. Add to that a five-yard penalty due to Kuna's second sideline warning, and Mountain Home kicked off from the Kuna 25 yard-line.
The Tigers tried an onside kick, but Kuna recovered it on its own 13 and was able to run the clock out for the 28-20 victory.
Tiger Coach Aaron Rodney thought his team played probably its best game of the season.
"To put things in perspective of where we're at, I think this program is making strides and going forward. At times we may be out-athleted and out-manned a little bit, but I tell you, each game our kids are playing hard, and they played really hard tonight. They kept fighting back and that's all you can ask for.
"We're making real progress and getting better every week. The young kids we have are growing up and have some maturity, and we're getting to the point the kids are understanding what we're trying to do, offensively and defensively, and we're getting the continuity so I'm awfully proud of the way they're coming along," the coach said.
"There's a lot of character and a lot of heart that they're showing, and that's good. We just need to play 48 minutes -- we can't take any plays off -- and I think they're finally seeing that."
Mountain Home racked up 399 total yards to just 193 total yards for the Kavemen, but came up short on the scoreboard. The Tigers rushed for 197 yards, led by Michael Daniels, who rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on just four rushes.
Ryan Eckstrom had 74 yards rushing on 15 carries. Tanner Sessions rushed seven times for 25 yards, Jake Ryan had 11 yards on nine rushes, and Ben Ceccarelli had minus seven yards on seven carries. Ceccarelli had his best performance of the season through the air, completing 17 of 29 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. He had one pass picked off.
Michael Daniels caught eight passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Jose Rodriguez caught four passes for 27 yards, Ryan Eckstrom had two catches for 21 yards, Levi Abrahamson caught one pass for 17 yards, Jaime Martinez had one catch for 12 yards and Danny Brescia caught one pass for nine yards.
Defensively, Malcolm Freer led the Tigers with six solo tackles and two interceptions. Ryan Eckstrom had five tackles and Jose Rodriguez had four solo tackles, including two sacks.
The Tigers close out their regular season schedule Friday night at home against the Middleton Vikings.
"Middleton is a real class team, and what they do, they do very well," Coach Rodney said. "They run the double wing there. It's four yards and a cloud of dust and they just grind it all the way down the field. They're a good football team, but I think if we play well and play up to the best of our ability, we can play with anyone on our league, but once again, we've got to play 48 minutes of football."
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday night at Tiger Field.