What a game, what a kickOct 1, 2017 By Scott Akanewich, Sports Editor
Maurice Gartenschlaeger has kicked plenty of footballs in his young life.
However, back home in Germany, the Wolverines kicker was bending it like Beckham, rather than booting the oblong object of the American game.
But, the tall, lanky German has certainly made the transition from the pitch to the gridiron seamlessly, not only providing Riverton with a formidable offensive weapon from distance, but also running out into the pattern and catching passes with regularity.
Friday night at Wolverine Field in the home side's dramatic, fightback victory against Fremont County rival Lander, Gartenschlaeger was at his absolute best.
After the Wolverines had leveled the score at 27-27, the Big Red offense got the ball back one last time and drove to the Tiger 32-yard line, where the drive stalled after a failed third-down conversion attempt.
Enter Gartenschlaeger, who calmly and coolly boomed a game-winning 48-yard field goal, easy as you like.
Every week at the professional and college levels, we see kicks of equal distance or less fluffed, much to the frustration of supporters across America.
So, leave it to a lad from Deutschland to do the deal in deadly fashion.
Call Gartenschlaeger "geld," because the young man is money.
But, before his majestic, end-over-end masterclass split the south uprights and the crowd went mental, there had already been plenty of interesting occurrences on the evening.
Lander showed up determined to run the ball against a leaky Riverton run defense and did exactly that, with the Tigers' DeAundre Velarde piling up an impressive 182 yards with his slashing, point-of-attack, hit-the-hole-with-authority running style leading the way for the Green-and-Black ground game.
Mix in powerful, smashmouth running by fullbacks Brody Dempster and Nathan Motherway, and the Tigers had their way with the Wolverines defense to the tune of more than 300 total yards of offense on the night.
In fact, Lander was doing to the Wolverines early on what either other squads usually do to them -- or even worse -- to themselves.
The Tigers forced three Big Red turnovers in the first half, scoring all of their points off Riverton mistakes and took a 13-7 advantage to the halftime locker room.
Suffice to say, the Tigers haven't had many halftime leads over the past couple seasons, so it was was certainly rare territory for head coach John Rounds' charges.
Even after the Wolverines scored the second half's first points for a 14-13 lead, one might have suspected the Tigers' run was done and the home team would assume control of the contest and cruise to victory.
Not so fast.
Back-to-back scoring runs of three and 23 yards by Velarde and Motherway, respectively, wrested the lead right back and poised the visitors for a famous victory.
However, the Wolverines are known across the state for being comeback masters the past couple years and once again turned the trick behind precision passing by Treyton Paxton and tough running by Nic Fenton down the stretch, which set up the dramatic finish.
What a game.
Too bad half the fans were disguised as empty seats by the time Gartenschlaeger's kick sailed through the goal posts and into the night.
Is there any reason the place shouldn't have packed to the rafters from beginning to end?
It was quite discouraging to see not even the home side completely full when the game kicked off on a beautiful, mild night on the last day of September.
Actually, it was shocking.
However, we accentuate the positive here, so congrats to those from both sides who came out -- and stayed out -- for a cracking game of high-school football.
Shame on those who didn't.
Finally, past the midway point of the season, we got a football game right here in Fremont County (still 5-30 combined on the season) worthy of getting the blood boiling and the emotions charged, providing us with plenty of candidates from the gridiron for our weekly honors.
Paxton had a rough go for most of the game, with a swarming Lander defense making it difficult for the junior Big Red signal-caller.
But, when it mattered most, Paxton found his range, guiding his offense masterfully down the field to put them in position for the winning points, part of a 23-of-35, 323-yard performance.
Did we mention he was playing with a broken toe suffered in last week's game?
If the Tigers had gone on to win the game, Velarde would've claimed the top spot.
Still, 182 yards on 27 carries continued a spectacular season for the senior slasher, who is also one of Lander's leading headbangers on defense.
Velarde has the uncanny ability to quickly read even the slightest seam in the defense as a play unfolds, then hit the hole and hit it hard and decisively, which opposing defenders have painfully learned this season.
We've already said about all we can about Gartenschlaeger (see above).
However, how often do high-school football teams eschew field-goal opportunities from far closer than the 49 yards away the Wolverines faced for fear of not being able of getting a proper snap, placement and kick away?
No-brainer for Wolverines head coach Pat Patterson, who sent his man out there without hesitation to attempt a game-winning kick.
Very cool, indeed.