Bulldogs come up short against Tigers
FORT SCOTT -- It was a heck of a ride, but the longest run in 15 years for Baldwin High School football ended here Friday night with a 20-7 Class 4A sectional playoff loss to the Fort Scott Tigers.
Not since the Bulldogs played for the Class 4A state title in 1988 had a team gone this far. BHS's 9-3 record was also the high-water mark since '88.
"You look back and see all the things the team accomplished and you're happy as a coach," said coach Mike Berg. "The players are happy, too. I know it didn't end the way we wanted, but you look back and it was a very good year.
"It think it's another step a long the way with how much these kids have improved," said Berg.
The BHS program has taken another step in each of the last five years in restoring the once strong tradition that fell dormant in the mid 1990s. First it was snapping a long losing streak, then it was improving the record each year past .500 and last year's team went another step with the first playoff game.
This year's Bulldogs went even further.
"This is just another team that has taken from the past and improved on it," he said. "That's what you want as a coach, to improve every year.
"In the past, we've had good offensive teams and we've had good defensive teams, but this year we had both," said Berg. "We also had good special teams and were able to return some kicks for touchdowns."
And, he points to this year's seniors as the biggest reason for the continued improvement.
"It's a tribute to these seniors. I thought these seniors provided great leadership," he said. "These seniors did not play junior high football, so they've really only played four years of football. They excel in so many other areas, too. There are basketball players, wrestlers, musicians and good academic students."
This year's seniors were the first group to not experience a losing record in football while at BHS. Their freshman year the Bulldogs went 5-4. It was the same the next year and then last year was the 6-4 mark and the return to the playoffs.
But, the string did end for this year's crew when Fort Scott took advantage of mistakes to take a 20-7 halftime lead. That held up as the Bulldogs tried to rally in the second, but fell short.
"I just think we ran into a very good Fort Scott team with tradition," Berg said of the Tigers, who have played in the last four state championship games and won the title in 2000. "They had a lot of speed. We were one or two blocks away from breaking a play, but their speed would catch us."
Fort Scott opened the scoring after a lengthy 75-yard drive. The Tigers converted a couple of fourth down plays to keep the drive going, including a pass interference call in the end zone that put the ball on the three-yard line. It took the Tigers three plays to score from there, but they had a 6-0 with just 1:23 left in the first quarter.
BHS answered that with its best offensive showing of the night. After being pinned down at the 11-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, the Bulldogs picked up a pair of first downs. Then senior standout tailback Micah Mason ripped off a 68-yard run on a draw play, which the huge throng of Baldwin fans thought was a touchdown. Mason was ruled a yard short, but senior fullback Kyle Flory punched it in on the next play. Junior kicker Emery Baughan added the conversion and BHS was up 7-6 just into the second quarter.
The lead didn't last long, however. Fort Scott answered with a six play, 55-yard drive that put the Tigers up for good. The majority of the damage was a 44-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Trenton Stepps to senior wide receiver Augaio Guffin. BHS sacked Stepps on the conversion attempt to hold the score at 12-7 with 8:41 left in the half.
Fort Scott made it 20-7 about seven minutes later on another 55-yard drive. This time it took nine plays, but Stepps and Guffin were again the major contributors. First the pair hooked up for a 19-yard completion on a third and six. That put the ball at the eight-yard line. The duo connected again on the next play for an eight-yard touchdown and then added the conversion for the final 20-7 margin.
The Bulldogs adjusted at halftime and shut Fort Scott down.
"I was so very pleased with our defense," said Berg. "They only had 20 yards of offense in the second half."
But, BHS couldn't muster enough offense, either. On their second drive of the second half, the Bulldogs drove 73 yards after again being stuck on the 11-yard line, this time by a Tiger punt. But, that drive died on a fourth-and-two when BHS could gain just a single yard.
The Bulldogs also had a fumble just into the fourth quarter to kill a drive. On their next drive, the Bulldogs again came up a yard short on a fourth-and-nine. That was the last threat of the night and Fort Scott held on for the win.
The Tiger's experience showed with the conservative approach in the second half to hold onto the lead.
"He didn't want to make any mistakes," Berg said of his coaching opponent, Bob Campbell. "He's been in the state championship game the last four years. You learn more from your losses than your wins. Makes you look back and see what could have or should have been done."
Mason ended the night with 143 yards on 21 carries. That brought his season totals to 2,011 yards on 245 carries for an 8.2-yard-per-carry average. It put him at 5,311 yards for his carrier and all are believed to be BHS records. No statistics can be found for the teams in the 1970s and early 1980s.
"To my knowledge, those yardage totals are the most I know of," he said. "He was a very special player and had a lot of good guys around him."
Now all that remains for the Bulldogs is the team banquet Dec. 4. That's another sign of their success, because usually the banquet is in November.
"Every senior will be missed," said Berg. "It's going to be a very difficult job to replace them, but every year we have to do that. We've got a lot of linemen coming back and some people say those are the best players to be returning."