Football: Douglas completes midseason turnaround with win over Galena
If there’s one thing the Douglas High football team learned through a rough 1-5 stretch to open the season, it was how to play through adversity.
So when the Tigers fell back 10-0 early on against Galena Friday night – bringing back uncomfortable memories of a 30-29 stinging upset at Galena to end last year’s regular season – it was really no surprise how they responded.
Douglas outscored the Grizzlies 42-6 over the next two quarters of play on their way to a 49-30 win on Senior Night in Minden. The Tigers tacked on a late score and Galena closed the gap with a pair of touchdowns during mop-up time.
The win pushed Douglas to 5-5 overall and 5-3 in Northern 4A play as Douglas completed a four-game win streak to close out the regular season. Douglas clinched the Northern 4A No. 5 seed with the win and will travel to No. 4 Reno Friday at 7 p.m.
“It’s just a credit to these kids and how they’ve been raised and how hard they’ve worked,” Douglas coach Mike Rippee said. “Most of them have been in the program all four years to get to this point. They are just character kids that don’t know the word ‘quit’. They ran the table when they needed to do it.
“Now we’re into a new season and we’re happy to be there.”
Galena opened the game looking to run as much time of the clock as possible in order to keep Douglas’ potent offense off the field. The Grizzlies led with a battery of seven consecutive runs between the tackles, gashing the Tigers for 24 yards. They translated that into a 15-play, 65-yard drive capped by Connor Marks’ two-yard plunge to run nearly six minutes off the clock and take the 7-0 lead.
Douglas standout kick returner Nick Maestretti then coughed up the ball on the ensuing kickoff, giving Galena the ball back at the Tiger 14.
The Tigers closed up their defense, though, and held the Grizzlies to a 30-yard field goal and 10-0 lead.
“We knew they were going to test us and they just got after us early on there,” Rippee said. “You have to find it somewhere to make the adjustments and make the plays and these kids did that.
“That was a big play there, holding them to just the field goal. It pumped up our defense after we’d been gashed for most of the first quarter.”
Maestretti again fielded the ensuing kickoff, but this time he broke wide to the left sideline and bolted 83 yards for a touchdown – his third kick return for a score this year.
“I knew (after the fumble) that I had to come back strong right away when I got another opportunity,” Maestretti said. “Once I found that hole, I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me.”
Rippee called the play another game-changer.
“Nick is the best in the league,” Rippee said. “That’s his third return (for a touchdown) this year. There’s nothing more pretty than watching him get out in the open and let her loose. The blockers did a great job up front to get him out there.”
With the momentum in hand, the Tiger defense then forced its first punt of the night on Galena’s following possession and Douglas’ offense took the field for the first time of the night with under two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Then, what Galena had been trying to prevent from happening, happened.
The Tigers drove 88 yards on 15 plays with surgical efficiency before junior Michael Nolting scooped a four-yard shovel pass to Nate VonAhsen for the score and the 14-10 lead.
The completion was Nolting’s fourth of the drive and would be the first of two touchdown passes for him on the night as Douglas rolled out 432 yards of total offense and was forced to punt only once.
With his 16 completions for 218 yards on the night, Nolting moved to a school-record 172 completions (breaking Tim Rudnick’s 157-completion single-season mark from 2008) and 2,113 yards (bumping him up to second in the school record books behind Rudnick’s 2,550) on the year.
Nolting wasn’t the only Tiger to make some movement in the school record books Friday night.
Junior running back Conner Peterson tallied 151 rushing yards on 26 carries, which moved him to No. 2 on the school’s all-time career rushing yards list with 2,216 in two seasons (trails Lamont McCann’s 2,577 from 1980-83).
Following VonAhsen’s touchdown, Galena spurted right back thanks to a a number of big completions downfield from sophomore quarterback Brock Raggio, including a 17-yarder on a third down and later a 25-yarder into the left corner of the end zone to put the Grizzlies back up 16-14.
That set up yet another game-changing special teams play.
Maestretti fielded the kick and ran right with the ball, before handing it off to Dusty Fisher on a reverse. As Fisher sprinted toward the left sideline, senior offensive lineman Pierce Dykes came across with a jarring block on a Galena defender that spung Fisher 15 yards further down the field and ingnited the Douglas bench.
“It was a good, clean shot and Pierce stayed high on him,” Rippee said. “We’ve been working on that reverse for a while and I’ve been looking for the right situation to call it. I figured why not do it after a touchdown, since they’d be swarming to Nick. It (the hit) just got everyone going.”
Indeed, it ended up being the ultimate turning point in the game.
Peterson burst up the middle on the next play, scampering 58 yards for the score and the 21-16 lead and the Douglas defense forced a quick punt on Galena’s next possession.
The Tigers used 10 plays covering 73 yards before Nolting punched in the touchdown on a one-yard keeper before halftime for the 28-16 lead.
Galena recovered and onside kick to start the second half, but senior cornerback Ben Khongkhatitham intercepted Raggio’s pass on the following play to set Douglas up at its own 34.
Peterson culminated another 10-play drive with a 19-yard halfback pass to Maestretti to put Douglas up 35-16.
“There was a little anxiety from everyone coming into tonight, especially with how we finished last year in the same game,” Maestretti said. “Everyone stepped up and got a big win for the seniors, for coach and for the team. It felt good.”
Peterson later added a two-yard touchdown run and Fisher capped the Tigers’ scoring with a catch on a simple slant route that he broke for a 65-yard touchdown.
Trevor Shaffer had a sack in the game to lead a solid all-around effort defensively for Douglas.
The bad news was the standout safety/wide receiver Connor Hughes left the game in the first quarter with a concussion and will likely miss at least next week. Defensive tackle Nick Fickle suffered a knee injury and defensive end Jackson Ketron was also shaken up late in the game.
“Hopefully everyone gets better so they can play,” Maestretti said. “Everyone has just worked really hard to get here.
“(The 1-5 start) helped us learn a lot. We know what it’s like to lose and to be down and we know how to work through it. We did a good job getting better and turning it around. We’re going into the playoffs on a roll and we know we can handle adversity. We just have to keep at it.”
Joey Crandall can be reached at (775) 782-5121, ext. 212.