Bulldogs pummel Panthers
First win over Paola since 1991
PAOLA Another Frontier League giant fell here Friday night as the Baldwin High School football program gained yet another victim with a 24-6 win over Paola, a team BHS hadn't beaten since 1991.
"It was a great win. We'll take it," said BHS coach Mike Berg. "We are now beating teams that have had strong football traditions in the 1990s."
The trend started in 2000 when BHS beat Gardner for the first time since 1994. The 2001 Bulldogs beat Prairie View for the first time since 1985 and followed that with the Bulldog's first victory against Louisburg since 1993.
But Friday's pasting of Paola the score could have been much more lopsided if not for several first-half fumbles was especially sweet and completed the sweep of once-invincible Frontier League foes.
"I want to give the total credit to the kids," said Berg. "Their hard work in the off season and on the practice field is paying off. We're on a level playing field. We are able to line up and compete with everyone in the league.
"It's been a growing process," he said in reference to the reversal of BHS's football 90s where wins were few and far between. That trend began to reverse at the end of the 90s and has carried on. "It's all about working hard and that's the kids and the coaches. It's finally coming together."
And Friday was a good example of that. Both teams entered the game 1-0 after wins in their openers. But BHS showed it was more than ready to put Paola's dominance in the past.
"I think we executed very well. I think we came to the game confident and ready," said Berg. "I think that showed on the first play. I think we were more mentally ready."
His reference was to the first play from scrimmage for BHS. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Bulldogs needed just one play to take the lead for good on the night. Junior tailback Micah Mason went up the middle, broke free from several would-be tacklers and was gone for a 62-yard touchdown gallop.
While BHS dominated the first half, the Bulldogs only had the 6-0 halftime lead to show for it. Just into the second quarter they were knocking on the goal line, only to have a fumble kill the drive. The same thing happened on BHS's next drive.
But, the Bulldog's defense wouldn't let Paola take advantage.
"I credit our defense for that," he said. "We would bend, but we wouldn't break. Our kids didn't have any quit in them."
The BHS defense showed one more time to open the second half that it was ready. Paola had three straight runs for three yards and went for it on fourth-and-one. BHS stuffed the next run, giving the offense good field position at the 45-yard line.
Seven plays later, mixing the pass with the run, the Bulldogs scored on a six-yard touchdown run by senior running back Justin Goff. The third quarter ended with BHS up 12-0.
Paola finally got untracked in the fourth frame and put its only sustained drive of the night together to cut the margin to 12-6 with 7:49 left in the game.
By this time, there was a steady rain and BHS came up with a lightning strike of its own. On the ensuing drive, the Bulldogs needed just two plays to erase Paola's score. Goff broke free on a 73-yard touchdown scamper that put BHS in control again at 18-6 with 6:46 left.
Then it was one more time for the defense. Junior cornerback Andrew Hannon stepped in front of an errant Paola pass and returned the interception 35 yards for a touchdown. The Bulldogs were up 24-6 with 6:04 left and the game was over. Too bad the rain wasn't. It continued to fall, but didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the BHS faithful who, unlike the Paola fans, remained in the stands to watch the victory.
"The crowd was great," said Berg. "They stayed with us. It was a lot of fun. It was a big game for us."
Finally breaking Paola's grip on victories over BHS goes towards the next level in re-establishing the Bulldog football tradition.
"We're trying to build that back," he said. "Baldwin had a great tradition in the '70, '80s and early '90s and we want to get back there. Our goal is to get Baldwin back in the playoffs."
The balance BHS showed Friday night will go a long ways towards that goal. The new wing-T offense provided enough carries for three players to top or near the 100-yard rushing mark. Mason had 124 yards on 13 carries, although he set out much of the second half for the second week in a row with cramps. Goff filled in admirably, just missing the century mark with 98 yards on seven carries. Senior Brian Lauridsen wasn't too far off, either, with 85 yards on 14 carries.
Junior quarterback Jason Kesinger figured in the balance mix, too, completing three of six passes for 55 yards which helped keep the Paola defense honest.
The only concern were those seven fumbles, four of which were lost. And, the five first-half fumbles weren't rain related.
"We had some mistakes and we've got to cut those out," said Berg. "We have to keep working hard. We want to get better every week."
The Bulldogs will need to do that with Friday's game at home against Gardner. Game time at Liston Stadium is 7 p.m. Last week, Gardner had a 21-6 halftime lead over Clay Center when weather forced a postponement. The game resumed at 4 p.m. Saturday and Clay Center rallied for a 32-21 win.
Despite that, Berg knows Gardner will provide a tough opponent.
"Gardner is running some wing-T," he said. "They're playing a 4-3 on defense, just like Paola, and their safeties are really good tacklers. They have good overall team speed."
BHS will put its 2-0 record, which is tied for first in the league with Eudora, against Gardner's 1-1 mark.