A superlative effort by Vermillion's defense made a first-quarter touchdown stand up through 3 1/2 quarters of the homecoming game Friday. Then that same defense gave the offense a pair of short fields for two late scores that turned a 6-0 cliffhanger into a 20-0 victory over Lennox.
Not only did the win improve the Tanagers' record at 2-3 heading into a pair of tough weeks ahead, solidify their playoff standing and cap off a successful homecoming, but it also gave Coach Gary Culver his 200th career triumph.
In his 35th year as Tanager head coach, Culver now stands at 200-144 in wins and losses. Over the years his VHS teams have won 12 Big 8 Conference championships and five state 11A titles. Vermillion also reached the state title game one additional time and the state semifinals four other years. Sixty-five of his players have earned first-team All-State distinction.
"Our defense played extremely well throughout the game. They kept us in the game until our offense could get some field position to work with in the second half and finally get untracked," Culver said. "Any time you can hold an offense to 121 total yards, you have to be satisfied."
Will Mart's last homecoming game was a memorable one as he led the defense with 12 tackles, but he had company. Avery Garcia and Alex Osborne had nine each, Nick Jensen and Stetson Kastengren eight each and Mitch Brown seven among the team's leaders.
Vermillion's game-opening possession was stymied by a block-in-the-back penalty, but on its first shot on offense, Lennox was forced to punt when Tanner Anderson held a third-down completed pass to a gain of only one yard.
Starting from their own 34, it took the Tanagers only two plays to reach the Lennox 27. A pass from Kyle Weiss to Anderson netted 28 yards, and D'Andre Fore ran for 11 more. Vermillion thought it had the lead when Fore scored from the 10-yard line, but a holding call wiped the score off the board. Two plays later on third and 10 from the 17, Weiss again connected with Anderson in the back of the end zone for the TD at the 1:18 mark of the first period.
The two defenses held each other in check through the second quarter. A Tanager punt was fumbled away by Lennox and recovered by Chayse Meierkort, but three plays later the Tanagers fumbled it right back. On the very next Oriole play Meierkort saved a touchdown when he stopped quarterback Dereck DeVries rumbling down the west sidelines. Lennox reached the 29, but Jensen and Mart teamed up for a one-yard loss. On third down Jensen again held Lennox to a one-yard gain, forcing a fourth-down pass. That one was intercepted by Brett Bye.
Vermillion was intercepted on its next possession. The Orioles came out firing on their first play and made it work for 41 yards from DeVries to Joe Hendrickson to the Tanager 24. But Mart and Osborne forced Lennox into a passing situation on third down, and again it was Bye coming up huge with an interception.
Less than a minute remained in the half, but the Tanagers made good use of their time. Fore gained nine yards on the ground, Weiss hit Brown for a 13-yard gain and passed to Mart for 22 more yards. With 0:04 on the clock the Tanagers went for the end zone, but a pass was a yard or two too long for a diving Mart to reach.
Anderson threw an Oriole for a two-yard loss on third down in the first Lennox possession of the second half, forcing a punt. The Tanagers were stymied by an illegal procedure penalty on their next possession, then threw a pair of long incompletions. A 14-yard punt after Mart was pressured by an oncoming rush as he tried to kick gave Lennox great field position at the VHS 45, still down by only 6-0.
This time Osborne had a sterling defensive series, twice stopping Orioles for no gain. On their sixth play Kastengren pounced on a Lennox fumble.
The Tanagers couldn't get a first down on their possession, but a 61-yard punt by Mart got his team out of danger for the time being.
Bye threw Jason Herrboldt for a five-yard loss on second down, and Osborne and Jensen teamed up to hold Lennox to only two yards on third down, forcing yet another punt.
The game was now into the fourth quarter. The Tanagers used up four minutes in reaching the Lennox 39 in seven plays. An incompletion on fourth down gave the ball away, but Meierkort's crunching hit on a would-be Oriole pass receiver caused an incompletion on first down. Anthony Leber held the third-down play to no gain. This time, with the clock running down, Lennox faked a punt but threw an incompletion.
Given the ball at the Oriole 37, Fore churned for seven hard-earned yards on first down. Two plays later he found the end zone from 30 yards away. He also danced and whirled his way across the goalline for the two-point conversion.
Garcia twice sacked the quarterback on the next series, and Osborne caused an incompletion. Lennox, on fourth down from its own 7-yard line, chose to try a desperation pass rather than punt but failed. With only seven yards to traverse, Fore took two plays to score a touchdown to make it 20-0.
In the final two minutes an entirely new Tanager lineup was inserted into the game. With Jack Brown quarterbacking, Regan Bye gained nine yards in two carries, and Thomas Walker covered 10 yards in the next two plays as time expired.
"We rushed the ball effectively," Culver observed, "and Kyle Weiss did a good job throwing the football when we went to the air." The Tanagers gained 185 yards in 40 rushes to the Orioles' 79 yards in 33 tries. Fore accounted for 148 of those ground yards. Weiss accumulated 89 passing yards, completing five of 12.
Vermillion plays unbeaten Dakota Valley in North Sioux City Friday night. "They have a lot of weapons on the offensive side and are very quick on the defensive side of the ball," Culver said. "We just have to play much like we did Friday night and not let them have any big plays on defense and try to control the ball with our running attack."
Lennox 0 0 0 0 — 0
VHS 6 0 0 14 — 20
VHS: Tanner Anderson 17-yd. pass from Kyle Weiss (kick failed), 1:18.
VHS: D'Andre Fore 30-yd. run (Fore run), 4:14.
VHS: Fore 3-yd. run (kick failed), 3:11.
First downs 12 6
Rushes-yds. 40-185 33-79
Passing yds. 89 42
Total yds. 274 121
Passes 5-12-1 2-12-2
Punts-avg. 4-34.3 4-33.3
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yds. 6-50 1-10
Rushing: VHS, Fore 28-148, Mitch Brown 5-18, Weiss 2-4, Regan Bye 2-9, Thomas Walker 2-12, Tanner Anderson 1-(-6). Lennox, Dereck DeVries 24-71, Jason Herrboldt 6-3, Carl Lang 3-5.
Passing: VHS, Weiss 5-12-89. Lennox, DeVries 2-12-42.
Receiving: VHS, Anderson 2-45, Will Mart 1-22, Brown 1-13, Chayse Meierkort 1-9. Lennox, Joe Hendrickson 1-41, Herrboldt 1-1.
Defense (solos-assists-total tackles): VHS, Mart 6-6-12, Avery Garcia 4-5-9, Alex Osborne 3-6-9, Nick Jensen 3-5-8, Stetson Kastengren 3-5-8, Brown 4-3-7, Meierkort 3-2-5, Anderson 3-1-4, Nathan Garrett 2-2-4, Anthony Leber 3-1-4, Walker 0-3-3, Brett Bye 3-0-3, Michael Sand 1-1-2, Fore 1-0-1, Paul May 0-1-1, Dan Goeden 1-0-1, Joe Mazour 1-0-1. Tackles for loss: Garcia 2, Jensen 1, Anderson 1, Bye 1. Fumble recoveries: Kastengren 1, Meierkort 1. Pass knockdowns: Osborne 1, Meierkort 1. Interceptions: Bye 2. Quarterback sacks: Garcia 2.