HAMLER – The 2015 Swanton football team have made a habit out of scoring in lightning-quick fashion to either jump out to a big lead, break open a close game or put a game out of reach. On Friday night, in their 56-28 road victory over Patrick Henry, they did it twice, the first time for the big lead and the second time to ensure the game was headed into the win column.
The first scoring burst saw the Bulldogs find the end zone four times in a 1:55 span with the offense and the defense each scoring twice. The second eruption saw two touchdowns just a minute apart, again with the offense and defense sharing the honors.
The game started out looking like it would be a battle between two time-consuming offenses. Swanton took the opening kickoff and methodically marched 65 yards down field to score on a one yard plunge by quarterback Bryce McComb. The drive used 11 rushing plays with Michael Lawniczak carrying seven times for 33 yards and one 14 yard pass play to Gunnar Oakes for a big first down. Tim Rankin ran in the two point conversion and the Bulldogs led 8-0 with 7:50 to play in the first quarter.
Not to be outdone, Patrick Henry ran the ensuing kickoff back to their 40 yard line, putting together a 17 play drive that culminated with a Mitch Bonner to Alex VanDeBussche six yard touchdown pass with just one minute left in the first. Bonner, who threw for 27 yards and ran for 31 on the drive, ran in the conversion and the score was tied at eight all entering the second quarter.
After the PH kickoff, Justin Timpe jump started the next Swanton drive with a 23 yard gain into Patriots’ territory at the 44. After three straight runs and a 15 yard penalty gave Swanton a fourth-and-11, McComb hit Oakes with a 17 yard pass and a first down to keep the drive going.
Four plays later, McComb ran in from eight yards out for his second touchdown on the night and the Bulldogs were on top 14-8 with 8:07 left in the half. The two point attempt failed but what the crowd had just witnessed was the lighting of the fuse for a scoring explosion.
The Patriots received the kickoff and immediately picked up a first down, but on the next play from scrimmage, Bonner was hit in the backfield and fumbled the ball. Zach Dziengelewski reached down, picked up the loose ball and rumbled 29 yards into the end zone. Again, the conversion attempt failed but suddenly, just 30 seconds after their last score, the Swanton lead was 20-8.
On the second play of PH’s next possession, Bonner threw a short pass to the middle of the field that was deflected up in the air by Robbie Gilsdorf. Swooping in to help cover, Oakes grabbed the ball before it hit the ground and ran 29 yards, crossing the goal line for the score. Kicking for the first time in the game, Nick Koback nailed the extra point for a 27-8 Bulldog advantage at the 6:21 mark.
Koback’s subsequent kickoff was uncharacteristically short and caught the Pats off guard, allowing the Dogs to recover at PH 27 yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, McComb hit Oakes in a stride down the right sideline for another touchdown. When the smoke had cleared following the extra point, what had been a tie game just moments before was now a 35-8 Swanton lead with 6:12 still remaining in the second quarter.
Patrick Henry went three and out after the kickoff and punted the ball to Swanton. The Bulldogs began a drive that, if successful, would have triggered the running clock in the second half and made it almost impossible for PH to come back. However, with fourth-and-nine from the PH 34, a McComb pass fell incomplete and the Patriots took over with 1:44 to work with.
Displaying solid clock management, Patrick Henry drove 76 yards in nine plays and found the end zone on another Bonner to VanDeBussche connection, this one from nine yards away with just seven ticks left on the clock. The two point conversion was good, pulling PH within 35-16 and when the teams headed for the locker room at halftime, momentum followed the Patriots.
Swanton kicked off to start the second half and, utilizing a strong running attack, Patrick Henry drove 80 yards while eating up over five minutes of the clock and scoring on a one yard dive by Triston Novak. Bonner was stopped short on the PAT attempt but Bulldogs big lead was now down to 35-22.
The lead shrunk even further after Swanton failed on a fake punt attempt on their next series, turning the ball over on downs at the Bulldog 39. The Patriots took full advantage, scoring in six plays and making it a one possession game at 35-28 as many of the Swanton faithful began having flashbacks to the squandered 21 point lead the Dogs had against Bryan just last year.
“Last year I think we lose that game. Last year we probably would have folded,” commented Swanton coach Mike Vicars on the Patrick Henry comeback. “But our kids showed a lot of resiliency. It shows a lot of maturity of our guys. I’m really proud of them.”
That resiliency and maturity showed up in Swanton’s next series in the form of a McComb 43 yard touchdown scamper down the left sideline on a quarterback keeper with 1:02 left in the third quarter. Koback’s boot pushed the Bulldog lead back to double digits at 42-28.
Any hopes of the Patriots continuing their comeback ended on the second offensive play after Swanton’s kickoff. A Bonner pass over the middle was picked off by Oakes who raced untouched into the end zone. “I definitely owed the team that one because their touchdown down here was all on me and I knew that,” said Oakes, referring to a blown pass coverage on an earlier PH score.
From that point on the Bulldogs controlled the rest of the game. Lawniczak added a touchdown on a 33 yard run in the fourth quarter to bring the final to 56-28 and for the first season in 20 years, Swanton won a seventh game.
The Bulldog offense outgained the Patriots by only 20 yards, 285 to 265, but committed zero turnovers to three from PH. Lawniczak had 87 yards on 13 carries and McComb had 66 yards on the ground while scoring three times and also threw for 59 yards. Owen Dodd led the defense with five tackles and Noah Johnston and Jonathon Shanks had four tackles each.
Swanton now takes their 7-0 record on the road this Friday and will face off with the defending NWOAL champion Wauseon Indians who come in at 6-1. For the Bulldogs, it is not just the biggest game of the year, it is the biggest game in two decades.
Bill O’Connell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org