Bulldogs drop battle with Paola
It was a case of almost wasn't quite good enough for the Baldwin High School Bulldogs here Friday night. They fell 37-27 to unbeaten and No. 3 ranked Paola, but were in it until the end.
BHS followed a Paola field goal with a first-quarter touchdown when senior Caleb Mason crashed in from the seven-yard line. That put the Bulldogs up 6-3 and marked the first time all season Paola had trailed in a game. It wouldn't be the last time, either, as the Bulldogs put a real scare into the Panthers.
But, it just quite wasn't enough.
"I just feel bad for our kids because they played so hard," said coach Mike Berg. "I thought our kids played with more intensity than ever before. We just didn't get any breaks.
"I'm just so proud of the kids," said Berg. "They met the challenge and were so close. I wanted it so bad for the kids."
It was a wild one. After Baldwin took the early lead, Paola answered with two touchdowns, running at will against the Bulldog 4-4 defense.
BHS had one last effort left before halftime, driving 68 yards in eight plays, using three passes as time was running out. Nestled at the one-yard line, senior quarterback Tyler Inzer snuck in for an apparent score. The officials ruled otherwise, leaving the ball just inches from the goal line with 22 seconds left. On the next play, Inzer pulled back to hand off and was blind sided by a Paola linebacker. Paola recovered the ensuing fumble to snuff the attempt and preserve its 17-6 halftime lead.
It wouldn't last long. Paola fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half and senior Adam Turk pounced on it at the 35-yard line. Three plays later, Inzer danced and broke tackles on his way to a 24-yard touchdown run. He added the conversion run and BHS was within three at 17-14.
The Panthers answered, however, with a 65-yard drive. But it was also a back-breaker because the BHS defense, switched finally to a five-man line, stopped Paola. But, on a fourth-down, Paola pulled off a fake punt that resulted in a 39-yard touchdown run.
"We didn't get any breaks look at the fake punt," said Berg. "We had him in the backfield and didn't wrap him up. He broke three tackles. Everyone was screaming 'watch the fake.' We knew it was coming. We just didn't execute."
Too bad, because BHS wasn't done. Senior Adam Halford blocked the extra point kick, leaving Paola up 23-14. It didn't take long for the Bulldogs to answer, either. After a pair of runs, Inzer drifted a screen pass to sophomore tailback Micah Mason who turned it into a 61-yard touchdown. Paola was penalized on the play, moving the ball to the one-yard line for the conversion, which called for a run but failed. BHS was back within three, trailing 23-20 with 6:29 left in the third quarter.
Another Paola fumble on the first play from scrimmage set BHS up again at the 24-yard line, with senior Mark Gastelum jumping on the ball. Three straight runs by M. Mason, the last covering eight yards for the score, put BHS ahead of Paola for the second time in the game. Senior Hans Broers' kick gave the Bulldogs a 27-23 lead with 5:13 left in the quarter and put upset squarely in everyone's minds.
But, Paola responded. Just into the fourth quarter, Paola capped a 79-yard drive, all on the ground, with a quarterback sneak. Also during that drive, Inzer suffered a wrist injury that would keep the BHS quarterback on the sideline for the rest of the game.
With Paola up 30-27, M. Mason fielded the kickoff and almost broke it for a touchdown. Almost there's that word again. BHS couldn't punch it in, despite going for a fourth and two. Paola took over and drove 67 yards for another touchdown to go up 37-27 with just 3:23 left.
BHS had another go at it, again missing on a fourth-down attempt. Still, it wasn't over. Three plays into Paola's possession, there was another fumble, this one recovered by junior linebacker Brian Lauridsen with 1:48 left.
After an 18-yard run by M. Mason, sophomore quarterback Jason Kesinger filling in for Inzer hit sophomore Andrew Hannon with a 35-yard pass and the Bulldogs were threatening again. A play later, however, the last hopes died with a fumble.
"This is a game of breaks and we just didn't made enough of our own breaks," said Berg.
The offense had its best game of the season, especially balance wise. The Bulldogs ran for 216 yards and passed for another 169. Inzer completed 5-of-10 for 134 yards, far and away his best passing performance. The wrist injury he suffered Friday won't keep him out of this week's game. M. Mason ran for 155 yards on 25 carries to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season, the first time in years a Bulldog has achieved that.
"It was our best passing game," said Berg. "We've been working hard on the passing game. I was happy with how we ran our passing and running games. We gave Paola fits. They have one of the best defenses in the state."
Next up for BHS is Louisburg, a team that beat Spring Hill 31-6 in the first round of district play. Louisburg has a 5-2 record, compared to BHS's 4-3 mark. The Wildcats run a split back veer, with lots of sweeps and counters. On defense, they run a 4-3, just like Paola.
"We've got to come back strong," he said. "We just have to take care of ourselves and not worry about what happens with Paola. We need to win our next two games and go from there."
Game time at Liston Stadium is 7 p.m.