With a resounding statement, Wauseon scored 27 consecutive points in the second half at home against Swanton Friday night, erasing a 16-14 halftime deficit to defeat the Bulldogs, 41-23.
“The target was on our back coming into this,” said Wauseon coach Travis Cooper on the win. “We knew they were going to come in and give us the best shot that we’ve probably had this season. We had been scuffling a bit a few weeks back. I think there was a little doubt still in our heads, and I think that we were able to establish ourselves. Our seniors willed us to win.”
The loss dropped Swanton to 7-1 on the year and 4-1 in the NWOAL.
“Those couple drives there in the second half gave them a lot of energy and it really affected us mentality wise,” said Bulldog coach Mike Vicars. “I thought we really dropped off on our level of play. We didn’t match that energy back. It’s unfortunate.”
Following a Swanton three-and-out to begin the game, Wauseon got started fast, taking advantage of good field position in which they started near midfield.
Wauseon quarterback J.J. Kauffman kick-started the drive with a 21 yard run, then Brendan Wilson ran for four yards and Jac Flory a two-yard pick up. Then, on first-and-10 at the Bulldog 18 yard line, Wilson found a hole up the middle for a touchdown to give the Indians the early seven-point advantage.
It was not until the second quarter when the Bulldogs dented the scoreboard. After advancing into Indian territory, pass interference called on a play in the end zone to Swanton’s Gunnar Oakes set the Bulldogs up with a first down at the Wauseon nine.
Tim Rankin then ran for three yards, Bulldog QB Bryce McComb scrambled for four, and Michael Lawniczak capped the drive with a two yard plunge into the end zone to tie the score at seven with 10:16 to play in the half.
However, Wauseon wasted no time to respond as on their first play of the following possession, Kauffman hit Mason Creager on a short pass who took it 80 yards up the sideline, slipping a tackle at his own 35 for a TD to put Wauseon ahead 14-7.
Swanton got good field position once again to start their next drive, using a combination of runs by Rankin and McComb to move the ball inside the 30. McComb then picked up three yards to get a first down on third-and-two at the Wauseon 27.
Two plays later, he made what could have been the play of the game, escaping pressure and finding room down the sideline where he dove in for a 24 yard score. However, the snap on the extra point was botched and the Bulldogs attempt to knot the contest at 14 failed.
The Dogs then forced a three-and-out from the Indians and an errant punt let them begin their drive at the Wauseon 30 with just over five minutes left in the half.
After a first down, the Dogs were forced into a third-and-five from the 15 where McComb picked up eight down to the seven, moving the chains. Lawniczak then picked up two yards, but an illegal procedure penalty on the next play moved them back five yards.
Swanton’s Robbie Gilsdorf rushed for four and on third-and-goal at the six yard line, he hauled in a short pass for a minimal gain down to the three with around a minute to go.
The Bulldogs and coach Vicars had a decision to make, but first they ran the clock down to 21 seconds remaining before calling a timeout. They chose to send Nick Koback and the field goal unit out where they cashed in on a 20-yard boot, putting the Bulldogs ahead 16-14 at the half.
“You got a chance to take the lead,” said Vicars of the decision. “I think, at some point, you’ve got to take the lead if you can. And I felt like that was gonna give us some energy going into halftime and I think it did.”
Wauseon, however, came out with a purpose in the second half. Kauffman rushed for 34 yards on the opening play out of the gate, then Wilson ran for nine and Kauffman 16 to put the ball in Swanton territory at the 19 yard line.
Later, on second-and-goal from the nine, Flory ran for five yards. Wilson then punched it in from four yards out to put Wauseon back on top, 22-16, after Kauffman added a two-point conversion.
While Vicars gave all the credit to Wauseon and the adjustments they made offensively, the coach also thought his defense’s youth in certain areas was exposed in the second half.
“You go back to August and we lost three veteran running backs, three veteran linebackers, and we’ve been playing some sophomores and a freshman. And I think that physicality (of Wauseon) tonight with some mature guys on young guys, it might have caught up to us a little bit,” he said. “It seemed like we couldn’t get off the blocks on the second level at all.”
The Bulldogs had a pair of holding penalties set them back on their following possession, as they went three-and-out to give the ball back to the Indians.
Beginning inside Swanton territory, Kauffman ripped off a 31 yard run down to the 10. However, a false start penalty and a sack of Kauffman pushed them back to the 16.
The Indians crossed up the Dogs on third-and-goal at the 16, calling a throwback screen to Wilson which went for a TD with 3:57 left in the third. Wauseon missed on a two-point conversion and the lead was 28-16.
“We have the best fakes,” said Kauffman when describing his team’s offense. “That is the key to it. People don’t know who has the ball and that opens up holes and gets us big yards.”
Wauseon would later add to the lead after yet another quick drive by the Bulldogs. Wilson ran for 20 yards to the Bulldog 31 and on the next play, Kauffman found an open Creager for a TD to push their lead to 34-16 with 1:26 left in the third.
A Swanton interception led to Wauseon’s fourth TD of the second half, as Kauffman hit Luke Rychener from seven yards out which made it 41-16. Lawniczak’s two-yard plunge at the 7:38 mark of the fourth equaled the game’s final tally.
“In these situations when you’re really disappointed you lost, your ‘boo-boos’ can become injuries if you’re not careful,” said Vicars. “And now it becomes mentality. What do you want to accomplish?
I told them they have basically 10 hours and they have to flush it and we move on.”
Kauffman paced Wauseon as he finished 4 of 5 through the air for 134 yards and four TDs, also rushing for 92 yards on 12 carries. Wilson carried 13 times for 107 yards and a pair of scores.
For Swanton, McComb ran for 76 yards and a TD on 13 carries, while Lawniczak had two TDs and 33 yards on the ground. Gilsdorf caught five passes for 67 yards.
Wauseon (7-1, 4-1 NWOAL) travels to Evergreen this Friday. Swanton is at home to take on Liberty Center, who is also 4-1 and tied in the league race with Wauseon and Swanton.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010