Carson Lyons TD catch

Bam. Bam. Bam.

With the Blake Lyons-to-Carson Lyons connection shattering host Medford’s secondary in Cleveland’s first three possessions, the Clippers went in front 20-0 still in the first quarter during their season opener on Thursday.

Shortly into the second quarter though, after Blake Gibbs rode off the field in an ambulance, the Clipper offense took a vacation, and the Tigers, with all the momentum, scored early in the third quarter and again in the fourth to pull within six with three minutes remaining.

But the Clippers stuck a dagger in the comeback when quarterback Blake Lyons hooked up with Kale Kelley for a 53-yard catch and run touchdown that secured a 26-14 Clipper triumph.

“You could clearly tell today all the kids who worked in the offseason,” said head coach Erik Hermanson. “Every one of the guys who dedicated themselves this winter to lifting were the ones who were still fresh at the end and were able to make plays. A couple of our key players today, Tanner (Simonette) and Carson, are freshman and shouldn’t even be on the field against a double A school, and they are heroes because they got bigger, they got stronger, they got faster.”

Simonette took the opening kickoff 30 yards to the Medford 48. From there, Blake Lyons connected with Kelley for 10 yards, gained 4 yards on a keeper and then linked up with his brother Carson for 31 yards.

Two plays later, the younger Lyons rolled right for a 2-yard TD reception. The PAT kick fluttered short, but the Clippers led 6-0 with 9:34 left in Q1.

The Clippers got the ball back right away when Mason Kluntz dived on a fumble on the first play after the ensuing kickoff. Lyons tossed to Kelley for 15 yards, handed off to Gabe Sullivan for three yards and then connected with his sibling again for a 23-yard pass into the end zone.

Carson Lyons also grabbed his brother’s PAT throw, and the Clippers were quickly up 14-0 just 4 minutes in.

Medford’s QB kept the ball for a 19-yard gain in their next possession, but Sullivan’s tackle in the backfield for a 5-yard loss forced the Tigers to punt, and the Clippers took over on their 33.  

A holding penalty cost 10 yards, but two plays later, the Lyons-Lyons duo struck again, this time for a 50-yard catch and run to the Medford 25. After Sullivan dived for two, Blake Lyons found his brother again for a 23-yard TD pass into the end zone (above). The PAT pass was incomplete, but the Clippers were up front 20 to zippo still in the first quarter.

Blake Lyons, who completed 13 of 23 throws for 229 yards, four touchdowns and a PAT said he and his younger brother are always in their backyard playing sports, and that has cultivated a telepathy between them.  

“I love playing with him. Running the routes in practice; we have trust. I know where he’s going to be and when he’s going to be there.”

Shortly into quarter two, Gibbs, a 190-pound junior offensive and defensive guard, contorted when making a tackle and suffered a broken femur. The game was delayed for 30 minutes while paramedics attended, and the Clippers lost their momentum after.

“I think anybody is affected by that because everybody cares about Blake,” said Hermanson. He has worked so hard lifting in the off-season. He hasn’t really played much in the past and was playing great, and then he only gets to play a quarter. It’s sad. Everybody feels bad, and I think in the back of their minds they are hoping it doesn’t happen to them too, and they become a little hesitant.”

Neither team scored the rest of the half, but after the second-half kickoff, Medford went to trickery with a pass on a reverse for 23 yards. Ten running plays later, the Tigers dove 2 yards for a touchdown. With the PAT kick, the Clipper lead dwindled to 13, 20-7.

Despite a Blake Lyons interception on defense, the Clippers didn’t get much going offensively from there while Medford completed back-to-back passes, one of 37 yards and the other for 25 yards and a touchdown. After the successful PAT kick, the Tigers, with all the momentum, were within six, 20-14, with 3:13 remaining.

“Their quarterback is super talented, athletic,” Hermanson said. “I am sure he would play for any team in our district.”

The onside-kick following didn’t travel the needed 10 yards, though and the Clippers took over on the Medford 48. But after a run for no gain, a 5-yard false start penalty, the Clippers were facing a precarious third and 15 before Lyons connected with Kelley down the middle for a touchdown.

“Kale was open on the post before, and I missed him. I overthrew him.” Lyons said. “So I knew he’d be open again. And once I saw where the defense was going…he did excellent and caught it and ran it all the way.”

The PAT attempt was no good, but the Clippers had made it a two-possession ball game with 2:20 remaining and held on for the win.

Carson Lyons hauled in seven of his brother’s tosses for 134 yards, three touchdowns and an extra point. Kelley had five catches for 95 total yards and a touchdown.

On the ground, Gabe Sullivan carried the ball six times for 15 total yards. Blake Lyons kept the ball four times for 10 yards. Caleb Possin legged 14 yards in five carries. He would have had 43 more, but they were negated when the Clippers got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Sullivan led the defense with 14 tackles. Kelley corralled eight tackles. Senior Brady Bostic had seven tackles. Ian Vlasak and Simonette each had six tackles. Blake Lyons had five tackles and made up for his one interception at quarterback by picking off a Tiger pass. Kluntz had five tackles and a fumble recovery.

In another Thursday game, the Clippers host Waterville-Elysian-Morristown tonight. 

Switching from Fridays to mostly Thursdays this year, a result of a referee shortage, has not been easy, Hermanson said.

“We have had some Thursday games in the past, and we’re kind of preparing like those weeks, but there are so many it is hard. Usually, we can tell you what day we are doing what, and now we’re going to have quite a few Friday practices that are a day after a game, video, conditioning, getting the bumps out. Usually on Mondays you would do that, but we have to come back on Mondays in full pads ready to play.”

But Hermanson said the Clippers learn the most between their first game and their second, and that will be especially true this year because there are not enough players to go live in practice, and the team had so many question marks: kids who have never played varsity football before.

“Mason Kluntz has never played before and now he plays both ways the whole time. Braden Smith started one game last year because of an injury, and now he’s playing the entire game. Brady Bostic has never started at center but look at all the great snaps he had today. So we were waiting for that first game and then we can make adjustments based off of how it goes, and everything we have been saying for three weeks now, all of a sudden we can show them, and they can see how it goes and learn from it. It helps them pick up on it. That’s why the second week we can really take a leap forward.”

WEM fell to visiting GFW 22-6 last week. Elsewhere in the district, Lester Prairie beat host JWP 30-20, NYA beat visiting St. Clair/Loyola 21-6, Mayer Lutheran topped visiting USC 28-6, and NRHEG beat host Randolph 14-0.

Grill out. Kale Kelley and a defender tug on each other’s facemasks.

Gabe Sullivan takes a Blake Lyons handoff.

Braeden Smith wraps up a Medford runner while Ian Vlasak and Kale Kelley move in to assist.

Caleb Possin on the run.

Blake Gibbs pushes over a Medford defender while Gabe Sullivan runs by. On defense a few plays later, Gibbs suffered a season-ending injury. 

Blake Lyons throws over a Medford pass rusher.

Daniel McClune, David Draheim and Bode Bartell were among the hurt players on the sideline. Also sidelined with an injury was Caleb Connor.

The bib girls had lots to cheer about. They are, from L-R, Mariah McCabe, Madison Peterson, Greta Hahn, Chloe Anderson, Ava Hahn, Savannah Meyer, Makenna Mueller, Laci Hollerich, Cassandra Connor, Olivia Shouler, Addi Holden and Jocelyn Bartell.