Some football players who necessarily had been lost in the shadows of outstanding seniors of the past two seasons finally got their chance to shine at Lennox Friday night, and the result was a satisfying 30-14 season-opening victory for Vermillion's football team.
The third straight Tanager win over the Orioles saw the Red and White overcome an early Lennox touchdown and then dominate the home team with a performance that was, surprisingly so for the first game of the year, nearly mistake-free on their part.
Two monstrous offensive plays stood out from the victory, but from the middle of the first quarter on, the Tanagers' offensive line took control of the game and the VHS defense matched that effort.
"I thought we held our physical and mental errors to a minimum," said Coach Gary Culver, who began his 34th year as Tanager mentor. "Our offense did a great job rushing the football, and Tyler Husby did a nice job passing the football for the few times we did pass."
Culver also cited solid special-teams play and noted that the defense held Lennox to under 100 yards when it mattered. The Orioles finished the night with 170 yards in total offense, 76 of which came on the Orioles' last drive when Vermillion was playing a softer defense.
The trademark of any Culver team – the ability to run the ball and thus control the game while defending the run, with perhaps on rare occasion a pass thrown in just for fun – was the key to success. Vermillion gained 256 yards on the ground in 40 rushes while adding 13 yards in two passes. Lennox passed for 30 yards and gained 140 yards in 42 carries.
A 68-yard drive on its first possession, helped along by a Tanager facemask penalty, a 22-yard pass over the middle and a 15-yard quarterback keeper play, was nevertheless stopped short of the goalline by the heart of the defensive line. Scott Iverson and Blaine Hubert teamed up to stop quarterback Alex DeVries on a fourth-down plunge from the 1 1/2-yard line. However, the Tanagers starting from that point, fumbled the ball back on the second subsequent play. From the five, Alex Parr ran in for the Orioles' opening score as well as a two-point conversion.
But the Orioles would not score again until it didn't matter.
The Lennox score was quickly forgotten when the Tanagers, starting from their own 36, saw Dexter Mehlhaf explode all the way for a 59-yard touchdown that brought momentum back to the visitors' side. D'Andre Fore's plunge for two tied the game at 8-8.
Dan Goeden's fumble recovery on Lennox's second play after the TD set up the Tanagers at the Oriole 32. In six plays they scored again when Husby went in from the 10. A crucial third-and-eight situation had been converted by Fore's eight-yard run. Then with the offensive line of Cody Olson, Andrew McCann and Riley Vlasman doing its job, the Tanager runners took charge. Fore went four yards and Mehlhaf eight before Husby got the score.
Fore made a touchdown-saving tackle on the return of the ensuing kickoff, and then the Tanager defense went to work. Neither team scored in the second quarter as unsatisfactory field position stymied further production from the VHS offense.
That all changed in the first 12 seconds of the second half when Michael Sand took the kickoff and stormed 85 yards to a touchdown. Husby's run for the conversion made it 22-8.
A fumble recovery by Husby stopped the first Lennox possession, and a punt ended their second. Other than that the Tanagers controlled the ball and the clock with their offensive possessions. A time-consuming drive that started at their own 32 ended 12 plays later, early in the fourth stanza, when Husby scored from the four. A pass from Husby to Ben Kozak increased the lead to 30-8.
Goeden recovered a fumble to end the next Lennox possession. They got the ball only once more, late in the game, when they went 70 yards in 10 plays to score with 45 seconds left in the game. The Orioles, down 30-14, tried an onsides kick, but Nate Garrett recovered the ball for Vermillion, which ran out the clock.
Husby's ability to power the ball for offensive gains from the quarterback position added a new dimension to Vermillion's backfield, and he carried nine times for 46 yards. Mehlhaf and Fore were the workhorses in the backfield, the former gaining 126 yards in 13 carries and the latter 72 yards in 17 attempts.
Carson Sullivan with nine tackles and Hubert with eight paced the Tanager defense.
One area the Tanagers hope to clean up is that of penalties where they were flagged nine times for 104 yards at Lennox. Vermillion hosts South Sioux City in its home opener at the DakotaDome at 7 p.m. tonight. The Cardinals gave up big plays early in a 46-0 loss to Plattsmouth, Neb., last week.
"They always play tough, hard-nosed defense, and this game will present a great challenger for our players," Culver said. "We will have to improve on our good performance in the Lennox game."
Vermillion 14 0 8 8 — 30
Lennox 8 0 0 6 — 14
LHS: Tyler Parr 4-yd. run (Parr run), 6:28.
VHS: Dexter Mehlhaf 59-yd. run (D'Andre Fore run), 6:13.
VHS: Tyler Husby 11-yd. run (run failed), 2:46.
VHS: Michael Sand 85-yd. kickoff return (Husby run), 11:48.
VHS: Husby 4-yd. run (Ben Kozak pass from Husby), 11:30.
LHS: Trevor Cartner 6-yd. run (run failed), 0:45.
First downs 15 14
Rushes-yds. 40-256 42-140
Passing yds. 13 30
Total yds. 269 170
Passes 2-6-0 2-7-0
Punts-avg. 2-31.5 2-33.5
Fumbles-lost 2-1 8-3
Penalties-yds. 9-104 4-35
Rushing: VHS, Mehlhaf 13-126, Fore 17-72, Husby 9-46, Sand 1-7, Kozak 1-5. Lennox, Parr 14-59, Tanner Husman 11-35, Cartner 10-27, Alex DeVries 6-19, Chris Plucker 1-0.
Passing: VHS, Husby 2-6-13. Lennox, DeVries, 3-6-115.
Receiving: VHS, Fore 1-7, Kozak 1-6. Lennox, Jared Fodness 1-20, Cartner 1-10.
Defense (solos-assists-total tackles): VHS, Carson Sullivan 8-1-9, Blaine Hubert 6-2-8, Dan Goeden 4-1-5, Husby 2-2-4, Cody Olson 4-0-4, Fore 4-0-4, Mehlhaf 3-0-3, Will Mart 3-0-3, Scott Iverson 3-0-3, Andrew McCann 3-0-3, Kozak 1-0-1, Chayse Meierkort 1-0-1, David Day 0-1-1. Tackles for loss: Sullivan, Hubert, Goeden, Husby, Fore, Mehlhaf, Mart, Iverson, 1 each. Fumble recoveries: Goeden 2, Husby 1. Pass knockdowns: Olson 2, Fore 2, Husby 1.