BILLINGS – A smiling Mike Ludwig stood at midfield, watching his team enjoy the moment with the fans.
While taking questions, the Laurel head football coach glanced over his left shoulder.
“I think that was a gorilla,” said Ludwig, whose smile never wavered. “It’s been a long time … a long time.”
With Ethan Renner running the football and a stifling defense everywhere, the Locomotives dominated No. 1-ranked Billings Central 33-0 Friday night at Herb Klindt Field.
‘Just hard work and dedication,” said Renner, who scored four touchdowns and rushed for a career-high 207 yards. "We wanted this. We worked hard all week."
It was Laurel’s first win over the Rams since 2002, Ludwig’s first season as head coach. Central had won 19 straight, including playoff games.
“It feels good,” said Ludwig, who has also been part of the long-time rivalry as a player. “I’m happy for our fans, I’m happy for our players and happy for our coaches. It feels good to be 4-1 and still have a chance to win the conference championship.”
Despite nursing a sore foot, “I hurt some ligaments and tendons against Miles City,” said Renner, the elusive senior caught a 16-yard scoring pass from quarterback Eli Aby and had touchdown runs of 7, 59 and 9 yards.
“I ran like I knew I could,” he said.
“He’s slippery and can find a crease,” said Ludwig of his running back. “He’s got good vision and that’s something you can’t coach.”
Connor Bergman returned a blocked punt by Danner Purkett for a 15-yard score.
The Locomotives converted five fourth-down conversions, two for touchdowns and two at midfield to keep scoring drives going.
“What helped was we were going downhill,” said Renner. “We had confidence in the coaches putting the ball in the right hands and making the plays.”
Two of Renner’s scores came on fourth down and his final touchdown was the result of a clutch 25-yard catch by Jack Waddell on a fourth down play.
“No risk, no reward,” said Ludwig. “We thought we had to take risks to give ourselves a chance to win the game. The kids were feeling it and getting us in good position. It kept the chains moving.”
The Locomotives defense had seven tackles for loss, including four quarterback sacks. The Rams' lone chance at scoring came on a 53-yard field goal attempt by Camden Casper that had the accuracy but fell a few yards short.
Laurel limited Central to 115 yards total offense. The Locomotives finished with 311 yards on the ground, including another 71 by Cameron Younger.
“We had a lot of negative plays,” said Rams head coach Jim Stanton. “Not a great game by us offensively. We gave them too many opportunities to have the football. If we possess the football like we want to do, the opportunities are not there.
“Give credit to them. They came after us good. We have got a lot of work ahead of us.”