Defense key to big Bulldog win
It was a night for the Baldwin High School defense to shine Friday as the Bulldogs shut down the explosive Gardner Trailblazers, forced two costly second-half turnovers and set the stage for a game-winning 29-yard field goal by Caleb Thomas in a 19-16 road victory.
"It was a very big win," said coach Mike Berg. "They were averaging 525 yards and 51.5 points per game. To hold them to 16 points is just a great tribute to our defense.
"The kids responded to the game plan," said Berg. "We wanted to pressure their quarterback. Ricky Spotz had two sacks and we kept him on his heels all night. Our kids did not let any of their players out of sight all night. They didn't have an open kid all night."
BHS opened the scoring with a 26-yard field goal by Emery Baughan in the first quarter. Gardner answered with a field goal for a 3-3 tie. The Trailblazers then took advantage of a pair of BHS fumbles to score touchdowns in the second quarter for a 16-3 halftime lead.
The smothering BHS defense didn't give up any more points and the offense converted two interceptions by senior Andrew Hannon in the fourth quarter for the winning points. It was a five-yard touchdown run by standout senior tailback Micah Mason in the third quarter that started the momentum shift. After Baughan added the conversion kick, BHS was within 16-10.
Just into the fourth quarter, Hannon came up with his first interception. Mason converted that one with another five-yard touchdown run, but this time the kick failed to leave the score knotted at 16-16.
A few minutes later, Hannon snared his second interception. BHS's drive stalled and it was up to Thomas, who shares the kicking duties with Baughan, but is used for the longer field goal attempts.
"He sprinted out on the field, we took 10 seconds to line up, he kicked it and it happened so fast," said Berg. "He got some good height on it and it was straight down the middle. It would have been good from 50 yards."
That gave the Bulldogs a 19-16 lead, but there was 6:24 left in the game. Gardner bobbled the ensuing kickoff and the returner accidentally took a knee at the 10-yard line. The Trailblazers still were able to come up with a couple of third-down conversions. On the last third-down situation, Spotz came up with a sack. That put the game on one more play.
"it was fourth and six, they rolled out and Micah nailed the quarterback," he said. "There was a minute left and they only had one time out. We kneeled down three times and that was it. The defense was just unbelievable.
"The defense really did it. They had one 50 yard run or they wouldn't have had much," said Berg. "Offensively we looked shaky. We lost three fumbles in the first half and they converted two for touchdowns on a short field. If we can keep from turning the ball over, we have a defense that can hurt people."
For the game, Gardner had 114 yards on the ground and another 114 through the air for a total of 228, well below the 500-plus average. BHS had 136 yards on the ground -- 83 of those from Mason on 22 carries -- another 59 through the air for a total of 195.
"We had short-field touchdowns, too, but when we didn't have a short field our offense did a good job of taking time off," he said. "We wanted to keep their offense off the field."
Another statistic that jumped out for BHS was only 30 yards in penalties. The Bulldogs had been plagued costly penalties in the first two games, but slowed that down. They also covered kicks much better, Berg said.
"We improved, especially on our special teams," he said. "The kick off and punt teams didn't give up anything. On kick and punts returns we almost ran back kicks for scores.
"We wanted to improve on penalties, turnovers and special teams and we did. Turnovers we still need to improve on," said Berg. "The kids played their best second half of the year. Now we have to put together a whole game and that's our goal this week."
Next up for the Bulldogs, now 2-1, is Louisburg, which is also 2-1. The Wildcats beat Wellsville 24-8 in the opener and Kansas City Sumner last week 20-6. In the second week, they fell to Gardner 55-20. Louisburg runs an I-formation offense with an option and power game. On defense, the Wildcats run a 4-4.
"They return their backfield from a year ago and have very big linemen. One is 370 pounds and another is 330," he said. "They are a lot like Paola."
Game time at Louisburg is 7 p.m. Baldwin High will try to accomplish the same from last week, he said.
"We're just looking to improve ourselves and get better each week," said Berg.