Home sweet home
Being home never felt so good to the Baldwin High School football team.
Baldwin began the season with road losses at Gardner and Paola, but were welcomed back home Friday by a large crowd and the seventh-annual Bulldog Bash.
The Bulldogs (1-2) routed Prairie View (1-2) 35-0 at Baker University's Liston Stadium Friday night.
"It was a total team victory tonight," coach Mike Berg said. "I owe it to our fans and the Bash, because they got our kids excited. We love playing at home."
Berg said the team should thank everyone involved with the Bash, especially organizer Rick Weaver.
"I wish we had the Bash every week, because the team gets fired up for the large crowd," Berg said. "We owe a lot to the parents, community, Baker University and Rick Weaver. He does a super job and is a great supporter of the program. It was great to play in front of all of those people."
Berg was happy to see his team play and enjoy the game, which hadn't happened the first two weeks.
"There was a lot of stress those first two weeks with the anticipation of playing two great teams at the start and not doing as well as we had hoped," Berg said. "We didn't have that stress Friday night. The kids played with excitement and had fun."
BHS senior Aaron Mills said the team played together and had fun Friday.
"We were successful, because everybody out on the field gave 100 percent," Mills said. "We really came together as a family and pulled it off."
Friday's game was also the first time the Bulldogs have played on the new artificial turf at Liston.
"It felt great," Mills said. "It's so much faster than the regular field. It was tremendous."
Berg said the turf took some adjusting to, but the Bulldogs love it.
"Our team was really excited about playing on the turf," Berg said. "We were able to practice twice on it and I think that really helped us. Our kids got a mouthful of rubber. They will get used to it."
Baldwin began the game by allowing a 69-yard kickoff return. A few plays later the Bulldogs gained possession of the ball on a fourth-down stop and never looked back.
Near the end of the first quarter, BHS senior Michael Giarruputo made a leaping interception at the Buffalo 29-yard line. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown six plays later with a one-yard run from junior Chase Abel.
Berg said BHS wanted to get an early lead on Prairie View.
"That's what we wanted to do," Berg said. "We didn't start the game very well with that kickoff coverage, but our defense kind of sparked us. We were able to score quickly."
In the second quarter, Baldwin added three more touchdowns. Junior Kyle Smith recovered a fumble at the Buffalo 28-yard line. Senior Blake Wieden found junior Jesse Green on a 24-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down conversion.
The Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead midway through the quarter.
On their next possession, Abel scored on another one-yard run to cap off a six-play, 63-yard drive.
Three plays after the score, Mills intercepted a tipped pass, even though he thought he was going to get hit hard from behind before the catch.
"Right before I caught it, I closed my eyes and thought 'please no one light me up,'" Mills said. "I caught it, saw open field and took off. I thought I was going to get lit up."
Four plays later, sophomore Sam Beecher rushed for a five-yard touchdown run to give Baldwin a 27-0 lead at halftime.
Mills said the Bulldogs were feeling good at halftime, which was the first time that had happened this year.
"We felt good and everybody was talking in there," Mills said. "No one was down in the dumps, like we have been the past two weeks. Everybody wanted to come out and score some more points."
Both teams exchanged turnovers for most of the third quarter, until Baldwin was able to score its last touchdown.
Wieden ran a one-yard quarterback sneak to give BHS a 33-0 lead. He said the Bulldogs were able to execute their running attack like planned.
"We came in and did what we have been practicing," Wieden said. "We just executed and played smarter."
"We were happy with our running game," Berg said. "That's what we wanted to establish. If you can't establish a running game, it's going to be hard to move the ball. Once we got that going, it opened up our play action pass. Our offensive line blocked well and Blake had a lot of time to throw the ball."
Baldwin's final points of the night came late in the game. Prairie View snapped the ball over its quarterback's head and the ball bounced into its own end zone. The Buffalo quarterback recovered the ball for a safety, giving Baldwin a 35-0 victory.
Wieden was glad to see the team win after the stressful week it had. Last week, the Bulldogs dealt with allegations of prescription drug usage. Several players were interviewed early in the week.
"It felt good to finally get a win," Wieden said. "We had a lot of outside stuff going on, but we pulled together and got the win."
Berg said the Bulldogs showed enthusiasm the entire game, which was what he wanted to see from his team.
"I told the kids that we just need to go out and have fun," Berg said. "That's what football is supposed to be. There was excitement on the sidelines and they played hard the whole game."
The Bulldogs will try for their second-straight win at 7 p.m. Friday at Ottawa. The Cyclones are 0-3, but Berg knows they will be a challenge.
"Ottawa is struggling right now," Berg said. "They are 0-3 but they are very well coached. They run reverses and some double passes, so we are going to have to be on our toes."