‘Who let the Dawgs out?’
As Baldwin High School's players and fans were savoring Friday night's 41-6 homecoming victory over the Anderson County Bulldogs and heading for the exits, the real news came from Public Address Announcer Kit Harris Eudora had won 23-22 over previously unbeaten Prairie View to cause a five-way tie for first in the Frontier League.
"That's amazing, it really is," said BHS coach Mike Berg of the log-jam atop the standings which includes his Bulldogs. "It won't be after this week."
No, the tie won't last long. Baldwin High will make the short trek north to Eudora Friday to take on the Cardinals for the first time in years and someone will have two losses. Various games Friday will also include the other three teams with 4-1 records Paola, Louisburg and Prairie View.
But, a musical question Harris piped out to the Bulldog faithful throughout Friday's victory will remain: "Who let the Dawgs out?" He used the clip from the song to inspire the Baldwin High faithful after successful plays, and after a sluggish first half, it took hold with the BHS squad. They responded to put Anderson County away.
"Our kids did not come out with the same enthusiasm they had the last three weeks when we won," said Berg. "I was proud of how our kids came out in the second half and took care of business. We figured out we were in a ballgame."
Baldwin High entered the game as huge favorites, an uncustomary role for the "UnderDawgs." Anderson County hasn't won a game in 23 tries and Baldwin High was on a three-game winning streak.
The game started true to form. BHS forced Anderson County to punt on its first series. Baldwin High took over and scored on a five-play, 74-yard drive. But, there was a definite sign of the night. Anderson County stuffed Baldwin's running game and 68 of those yards were picked up on a pass from senior quarterback Heath Knight to senior wideout Ben Cosman. There was more to come from that duo. Jake Barnes, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound senior lineman inserted into the backfield ala "Refrigerator Perry" fame, scored the touchdown on a 1-yard run. Junior kicker Yancy Richards kicked the extra point and BHS was quickly up 7-0.
Enter the song "Who let the Dawgs out?" from the PA and it looked like BHS was on a roll. Anderson County had different thoughts. Those Bulldogs responded with a 12-play, 62-yard drive of their own to pull within 7-6 still in the first quarter. The rest of the quarter ended unceremoniously for BHS and that's the way the score stood.
But BHS started to right the ship in the second frame. BHS forced another punt and then drove 90 yards in eight plays for another touchdown. This time Knight used his legs instead of his arm, picking up 18 and 50 yard gains on a pair of plays for most of the yards. But, it was his arm that did the last of the damage as the 6-5, 180-pound senior hit freshman wide receiver Andrew Hannon with a 17-yard scoring strike with 9:09 left in the half. It was Hannon's first-ever varsity catch. Richards again added the conversion for a 14-6 lead. "Who let the Dawgs out?" played again.
After giving up another rushing first down, BHS's defense answered and forced another Anderson County punt. Baldwin High then drove 59 yards in just five plays for another score. But, again, it was the pass that made the difference. Knight hit Cosman for 39 yards, and junior Tyler Inzer for seven, before finding Cosman again for 16 yards to put BHS at the 1-yard line. Junior tailback Adam Turk ran it in from there, Richards added the conversion and BHS had its 21-6 halftime lead.
Still, Anderson County wasn't done. Those Bulldogs drove to the 2-yard line again, only to come up with a fourth-down situation where junior cornerback John Bones broke up a pass to save a score. BHS put up a final drive of the half, but fell short and the 21-6 halftime score was in place.
Then it was time to really let the Dawgs out.
Scolded at halftime for the lack-luster performance, BHS's Bulldogs responded quickly in the second half. Inzer caught the opening kickoff at the 18-yard line, ran into a pack of players around the 40-yard line, broke a pair of tackles and miraculously emerged from the pile up to streak free for an 82-yard touchdown. Harris hit the "Dawg" song button again and Liston Stadium really started rocking.
"We came out with a lot more intensity in the second half," said Berg. "Our kickoff return has done a great job the last few weeks. Tyler Inzer broke a few tackles and he was gone."
It was the third straight game BHS has run a kickoff back for a score. Inzer did it two weeks ago and Friday, while Tyler Trowbridge turned the trick last week against Osawatomie. In all three instances, the returns helped propel BHS to wins.
Baldwin High's defense took over from there. First the Bulldogs stopped a fourth-and-short attempt to hand the offense a golden opportunity. But, BHS fumbled. Baldwin then forced its own fumble and sophomore defensive end Cal Heinrich jumped on it at the 21-yard line.
Knight went right to the air, hitting senior wideout Bo Donora with a 20-yard pickup to the one. Knight then snuck it in, Richards added his fifth-straight conversion kick and the Dawgs were out to a 35-6 lead with 9:01 left in the third quarter.
BHS's defense then held twice, forcing punts. The offense drove to the 12 after the second punt, but came up short after an offensive pass interference call moved Baldwin backwards.
Just into the fourth quarter, Anderson County mustered its only drive of the second half, which was aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty. However, there was one more turnover to come as BHS's Witt Hinton recovered a fumble at the 11-yard line to stop Anderson County for good.
Two plays later, the first a 4-yard run, Knight hooked up with Cosman for an 85-yard touchdown bomb. It was Cosman's seventh catch of the night for 268 yards, but it was his first score after setting up several others.
"They kept catching me at the 1-yard-line," Cosman said on the sideline. "I've got to get one in."
He did. The Dawgs were out for good and firmly in control at 41-6 with 8:38 left in the game. Berg substituted freely from there as BHS improved its record to 4-1. The victory was an example of taking what the defense gives. BHS's normally productive running game was shut down to 107 yards and 90 of those were by Knight, mostly on two runs.
But, the passing game showed up after being held in check through the first part of the season. Knight hit 14 of 22 passes for 412 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. While Cosman got the lion's share of those yards, Knight connected with five receivers, including sophomore tight end Brian Lauridsen who caught three for 97 yards.
"Their game plan was to come in and stop the run. They put eight or nine people in the box to do it," said Berg. "They had single coverage on our receivers and we used that to our advantage.
"You've got to adapt your offense to what the defense is doing," he said. "It was the first team that didn't try to stop our pass. Most teams have been really concerned about our passing game. We're not going to throw it out there in double coverage. We'll run the ball and, really, we prefer to run the ball to set up the pass.
"Since they didn't double cover us and cover our trips like I thought they should, we went after it with the pass," Berg said. "I was proud of the confidence Heath showed throwing to everyone. The receivers responded well."
But there was also a big response from the offensive line. While they couldn't get the running game going, the big guys up front took care of Knight with pass blocking, especially in the wake of losing Barnes early in the game to a shoulder injury suffered on his touchdown run.
"Again, it was a total team victory," he said. "We had a lineman go down and Mark Gastelum came in and did a great job. We didn't have a sack for the first time this season."
Berg said the defense stepped up, too, after initial first-half problems stopping Anderson County's run.
"We didn't really gang tackle and we didn't wrap up," he said of the first half. "In the second half, we saw a lot of purple shirts around the ball. We gang tackled.
"We played well on both sides of the ball, but there's always room for improvement," said Berg.
Baldwin High will need to do that this week against the strong running attack of the Eudora Cardinals, which features Brian Harris, a 5-5, 145-pound senior, who averages 132 yards rushing per game and has scored 12 touchdowns. In the upset win over Prairie View, Harris had 122 yards on 30 carries and scored twice.
"They are good, very good," Berg said of Eudora. "Their running back can fly. They are very good defensively and have a good running game. The defense causes turnovers. Prairie View had them beat, but the defense caused two fumbles.
"They're very well coached," he said. "They like to run the sweep, they run a little option and try to pound it. They have a big offensive line."
Game time Friday at Eudora is 7 p.m.
"Our kids are looking forward to it," said Berg.
Maybe the Dawgs will get out again.