BAXTER — Baxter senior quarterback Braydon Aker has the perfect description when it comes to 8-man football.
“It’s a lot like backyard football,” Aker said. “It’s awesome.”
Aker was slinging the ball around like he was as a kid in his backyard Friday night against English Valleys.
Aker threw for 297 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for another 107 yards and another score during the Bolts’ 62-40 victory over the Bears in their home opener.
Aker connected with senior Travis Lindemoen for four consecutive TD passes in the first half that put the Bolts up 40-6. Baxter led 40-12 at halftime before having to hold off a mild rally from English Valleys.
Lindemoen finished with 208 yards and four TDs on seven catches, and he also returned his only punt return for a 57-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
“It’s really awesome, Lindemoen said. “There is definitely more opportunities to make big plays. Screens and short passes go for 70 yards on most plays.”
Baxter had a long day of pomp and circumstance. The coaches, players and members of the community were up at 5:30 a.m. for the Blitz Gameday program hosted by Channel 5.
There were several kid-friendly activities before the game and a pre-game tailgate supper with a free-will donation.
None of that bothered the Bolts though as they race out to a 26-8 lead after one quarrter.
“I was a little worried because we had never done that before,” Baxter coach Rob Luther said. “It’s a long day. Kids are young and resilient, but it was in the back of mind about how we’d start the game.
“Boy, we started great. We got some great stops and scored right away.”
Aker hooked up sophomore Cole Damman on an 11-yard TD to start the scoring in the first quarter.
After a defensive stop, Lindemoen returned the first punt of the game 57 yards for a score.
English Valleys got on the board with a 47-yard pass play from Cael Hester to Braydon FIsher to cut the Bolts’ lead to 14-8.
But that’s when Aker and Lindemoen went to work.
The first two touchdown hookups went for 50 and 34 yards in the first quarter. On one of those throws. Aker threw across his body to a wide open Lindemoen who made one move and sprinted to the end zone.
“The play kind of broke down on the right side, so I looked back to the left,” Aker said. “We had a play like that last year where Travis was wide open, too. It felt a lot like that. He was wide open.”
Aker’s ability to keep plays alive was what Luther was most impressed with Friday night.
“He extended plays when we weren’t in a good situation,” Luther said. “When things got close and they started to come back a little, he made a play to keep us in front. He converted a couple big fourth downs, too.”
Lindemoen’s final two TD catches came in the second quarter. The first one covered 57 yards and the second one went for five yards.
“I have been playing with Travis since second grade,” Aker said. “We know what the other one is thinking.”
English Valleys scored on the final play of the half when Cooper Andreassen got loose for a 30-yard TD pass from Hester. Hester finished with 222 passing yards, 66 rushing yards and four total touchdowns.
The Bears (2-2) scored quickly in the third quarter to trim their deficit to 40-22.
Aker responded with a 6-yard TD pass to Damman and an 11-yard TD run. Damman hauled in six passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
The two teams traded three touchdowns in the final 2:28. Baxter’s Devin Carson had a 13-yard touchdown run for the Bolts.
“It was sloppy at times,” Luther said. “We didn’t come out real fired up in the second half. That wasn’t a great five to six minutes. We have to learn to play all 48 and cut back on the penalties.”
The Bolts had 13 penalties in the game, most of which came in the second half.
The Bolts’ first 8-man home game was a success despite the team playing without three key pieces on the offensive line.
Juniors Will Clapper and Brandon Hammer both missed the games with injuries and senior Bryce Bacon continues to sit after a sustaining an injury in the preseason.
Clapper had surgery on his left knee Friday morning. He was seated with his leg elevated in the West end zone. His is expected to miss at least the next few weeks.
Every member of the Bolts’ team greeted Clapper in his chair before they came onto the field.
“Last week was pretty rough for the entire team after he went down,” Aker said. “Until he gets back, we are playing for him.”
Not having experienced starting linemen on the field, Luther decided that a heavy ariel attack was the way to go against English Valleys. That strategy paid off for the Bolts.
“We knew it would be easier with young linemen to pass block rather than run block,” Luther said. “I knew they’d give us some cushion. I also liked the matchups on the outside with Lindemoen and Damman. The matchups just seemed to be there in the passing game.”
The Baxter defense was led by senior Jusson Roush, who had 13 tackles and three tackles for loss. Damman added 8 1/2 tackles, Aker had 6 1/2 tackles and a sack and senior Marcus Mitchell tallied six tackles and a fumble recovery.
Baxter gets two more home games this season. The Bolts will play three straigh on the road before getting two consecutive home games in October.
There was a lot of purple in the stands Friday night, but the atmosphere was a bit different from when the town cheered on the Raiders.
“I looked around a little bit. There was a lot of purple here tonight, but I felt like the crowd was just trying to soak in the 8-man game,” Luther said. “I have been in front of a lot of home games where the atmosphere was electric. This had more of a, ‘what is this going to be like’ feel to it. I felt support, but I could tell they were just watching and learning the game.”
Baxter plays East Union (3-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in Afton.
English Valleys 8-8-8-16 — 40
Baxter 26-14-8-14 — 62
Baxter — Cole Damman 11 pass from Braydon Aker (pass failed)
Baxter — Travis Lindemoen 57 punt return (Aker to Marcus Mitchell pass)
EV — Brayden Fisher 47 pass from Cael Hester (Cooper Andreassen run)
Baxter — Lindemoen 50 pass from Aker (run failed)
Baxter — Lindemoen 34 pass from Aker (pass failed)
Baxter — Lindemoen 57 pass from Aker (Aker run)
Baxter — Lindemoen 5 pass from Aker (pass failed)
EV — Andreassen 30 pass from Hester (Hester run)
EV — Fisher 16 pass from Hester (Hester run)
Baxter — Damman 6 pass from Aker (Aker to Lindemoen pass)
Baxter — Aker 11 run (Lindemoen run)
EV — Hester 3 run (Andreassen run)
Baxter — Devin Carson 13 run (run failed)
EV — Derek Dulaney 49 run (Seth Thompson run)