MAYVILLE - While winning is always, and unquestionably, the primary goal for Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake coach Curt Fischer and his squad each time they step out onto the gridiron, at this early stage in the season there are also secondary aims that come into play.
Aims that, if achieved, can have important and lasting effects on a season.
On Friday, one of those secondary aims could be boiled down to a single word: confidence.
Jonah Tanner of Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake, below, slams into Nichols’ Mercy Cox-Hicks to force a fumble in Friday night’s non-league football game. A.J. Hulton of MG/CL picked up the fumble and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Hoping to instill greater confidence in his quarterback, Kyle Mayer, Fischer opened up the playbook against the visiting Nichols Vikings, putting the game in the senior's hands in order to show him that his coach had all the confidence in the world in his abilities.
Given what followed, Fischer can consider his mission accomplished.
Mayer completed 5-of-8 passes for 155 yards, including, on the second play of the game, a 68-yard screen pass to Jonah Tanner that went for a touchdown, and led the Thunder Dragons to touchdowns on three of their first four possessions in a convincing 49-6 non-league victory.
"The thing with Kyle is that he's a winner," Fischer said after the win, which improved his squad to an unblemished 2-0. "And tonight I wanted to give him a lot of confidence. I wanted him to know that I believe in him and the whole team believes in him.
"I need him to feel great about being a thrower, about running the offense and about leading our team. I thought tonight was a big step."
Last week, Mayer threw four passes all game; this week, he threw four passes on the first four plays. And it didn't take long for Fischer's show of confidence to pay dividends.
After hitting Tanner on the screen for a touchdown to put his team ahead, 7-0, Mayer dropped back on the first play of MG/CL's ensuing possession and promptly connected on a 33-yard bomb to A.J. Hulton. On the next play the quarterback tossed a pitch to Ryan Miller, who rumbled down the right sideline for 21 yards, and then he handed it to Gram Nelson, who finished off the lightning-quick, 63-yard drive with a 9-yard run to paydirt.
Kicker Riley Beaton hit his second extra point - he would finish a perfect 7-of-7 - and just like that, 12 minutes into the game, the Thunder Dragons had already managed to tally more points than they had all last week.
Mayer, who like much of the starters saw limited action in the second half due to the lopsided score, would later hit Hulton again on 52-yard play-action rollout during a two-play, 69-yard drive that ballooned the Thunder Dragons' advantage to 36 points, 42-6.
"We wanted to really show off the fact that Kyle is a good quarterback," Fischer said. "People really underestimated him last week so we changed a few things on his rolls - he's not the tallest kid in the world - because we had to get him a little deeper and get him a chance to throw the ball."
While Mayer's confidence grew, so too did it spread to the rest of the team.
On the offensive side, the Thunder Dragons ripped off a grand total of four plays that went for 40-plus yards (and six that went for 20 or more). Among them were a 61-yard run by Miller in the second quarter - he would cap the 80-yard drive with a 6-yard scoring run two plays later - and a 40-yard scamper into the end zone by Jed Micek in the fourth, which put the finishing touches on the victory.
"I think that our backs are reading holes better," Fischer said. "They're starting to know what play before they get up to the line of scrimmage so there's no doubt (in their minds), and when there's no doubt they have confidence. That helps a lot."
On the defensive side, meanwhile, MG/CL returned both a punt and a fumble for touchdowns within a 40-second span during the second frame.
The punt return, which made the score 28-6, was delivered by Nelson, while the fumble return was made by Hulton, who had picked up the loose ball on the fly after linebacker Jonah Tanner walloped Nichols running back Mercy Cox-Hicks in the backfield.
NOTES: Miller led the MG/CL rushing attack with 85 yards on four carries. ... Mitchell Sandberg had 12 tackles and recovered a fumble. ... Tanner finished with 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. ... Nichols lone score came in the second quarter when Jordan Tyson picked up a fumble (MG/CL's lone turnover of the game) and went 80-yards for the touchdown.
Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake7 28 7 7 - 49
Nichols0 6 0 0 - 6
MG/CL-Tanner 68 pass from Mayer (Beaton kick)
MG/CL-Nelson 9 run (Beaton kick)
Nic-Tyson 80 fumble return (pass failed)
MG/CL-Miller 6 run (Beaton kick)
MG/CL-Nelson 47 punt return (Beaton kick)
MG/CL-Hulton 50 fumble return (Beaton kick)
MG/CL-Westerdahl 16 run (Beaton kick)
MG/CL-Micek 40 run (Beaton kick)