Swanton needed a win over Delta Friday to clinch a tie for the Northwest Ohio Athletic League football title. Although they trailed 7-0 only 17 seconds into the game on Bailey Storeholder’s 64 yard touchdown run, defensive adjustments and a balanced offense allowed the Bulldogs to battle back and pick up the 23-14 victory, clinching their first league championship in 20 years.
The Bulldogs were co-league champions with Wauseon after the Indians defeated Patrick Henry Friday night 27-0.
“It is such a sweet thing for the community,” said Swanton coach Mike Vicars on winning the league. “Especially for these kids, the seniors who went through a lot in their playing careers. A lot of people I don’t think really believed they could do it. But they always did, and these 16 guys stuck through it all the way until now.”
One of those seniors, wide receiver and defensive back Robbie Gilsdorf, was vital in this one as he caught three passes for 68 yards and a TD and also recorded an interception.
“It is a new beginning,” said an excited Gilsdorf after the game. “It is a great win for us and it’s a great win for the community.”
Swanton was able to reclaim the lead, 9-7, with 7:26 left until halftime when Delta quarterback Noah Parsons was called for intentional grounding in the end zone on a play resulting in a safety. It was a tough call to make as it appeared that Parsons was out of the pocket when throwing the ball away.
“They said there was no receiver there and I said that is not a high school rule,” said Delta coach Jeff Wolford on the referee’s explanation of the play. “Just a big mistake. They said there was no receiver over there, my fullback was right there. It is what it is.”
A Panther fumble recovered by Swanton’s Dean Sego at the Delta 11 yard line presented the Bulldogs with another opportunity to score before half.
However, a loss of a yard on first down and back-to-back incomplete passes forced a field goal that Swanton missed, keeping the score at 9-7 heading into the break.
The Bulldogs came out of the half like they needed to and patiently drove down the field. On a third-and-10 from the Delta 31, Bulldog quarterback Bryce McComb rolled to his left and hit Gilsdorf who made a leaping grab down at the one yard line.
“We are called the dynamic duo. Basketball and football,” explained Gilsdorf on the connection with his quarterback. “It has always been that way. We have grown up (together) and we are brothers.
“We just always have that connection. It is great to see it finally come out on the field.”
The Dogs got in the end zone on their third try with a run by Michael Lawniczak, however, it was brought back by a chop block penalty. But on a second attempt, now at the Delta 15, McComb found no Panther defenders on the right side and scrambled for a TD with 6:44 left in the third to put the Dogs ahead 16-7.
Delta’s struck quickly on the ensuing possession when running back Jesse Beverly exploded up the left side for a 66 yard TD on a third-and-one play, cutting the Bulldog advantage to 16-14 with 5:55 remaining in the third.
Swanton once again got to the red zone in an attempt to answer the Panthers’ score, but a turnover would halt their chances. After a holding call on first and goal from the nine set them back, Delta’s Devon Richard intercepted a McComb pass and returned it for a minimal gain to their own 18.
Delta was able to pick up one first down, but on first-and-10 at their own 40, Gilsdorf jumped the route, picking off Parson’s pass and taking it to the Panther 28.
“Robbie is special,” said Vicars of Gilsdorf. “You just knew that he was gonna explode at some time.”
“Turnovers killed us,” added Wolford. “Turnovers and the safety. It is just not our night. We just didn’t play well.”
Swanton scored in six plays as Lawniczak ran off tackle for a three yard TD to equal the game’s final tally with 7:16 to go in the contest.
Delta did advance to the Swanton 12 after a 14-yard connection from Parsons to Storeholder, but they went four and out from there to turn the ball over on downs with 1:35 remaining, ending the game.
“It is different because it is a different group of kids,” said Vicars on winning a league championship with Swanton. “I am just really happy for them. And plus as a coach you get a little selfish sometimes because league championships don’t come around very often.”
Swanton answered Storeholder’s TD on the opening play of the game with McComb’s 18 yard strike to Gilsdorf who did the rest, using a spin move to get into the end zone to knot the score at seven at the 6:37 mark of the first.
The Bulldogs’ defense took over from there, holding the Panthers scoreless over the next two and a half quarters.
“Really, we did a good job defensively except for two plays,” said Vicars. “It is just a matter of taking a deep breath there and getting back to some things.”
For Delta, Jesse Beverly carried the ball 17 times for 206 yards and a TD. Storeholder had 13 carries for 119 yards and a score.
The title was Swanton’s sixth in the NWOAL, three outright and three shared.
Despite the loss, Delta (6-4, 4-3 NWOAL) made the playoffs as an eight seed in Division VI, Region 20. They will head to take on top-seeded Bucyrus Wynford on Saturday beginning at 7 p.m.
Swanton (9-1, 6-1) hosts Apple Creek Waynedale on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Division V, Region 16.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010