Sloppy ending to BHS football season
PAOLA — It was the same two teams playing on the same field, but Baldwin High School’s football game with Paola on Friday was nothing like its season-opening victory 10 weeks earlier.
On Sept. 3, the Bulldogs jogged off the field beaming with smiles and clean jerseys, as they should have after upsetting the Panthers 32-14 to open the season. Friday night was a complete 180-degree flip-flop.
After 48 minutes of football in cold, rainy and windy conditions, the Bulldogs exited the field sopping wet and covered in mud. They also left with heads hanging. The Bulldogs’ (10-2) season ended Friday in a sloppy mess as Paola (9-3) won the game 21-6.
“The conditions were horrendous,” coach Mike Berg said. “The team that executed best won the game and that was Paola.”
Friday’s loss was the final high school game for 10 BHS seniors. This was the second trip to the state quarterfinals for the Bulldogs during their time at BHS. They were freshman when the Bulldogs advanced to the state semifinals.
“Friday’s loss will be one I will never be able to live down the rest of my life,” senior Josh Hoffman said. “It will be something I remember every time I think about Baldwin football. The weather was the game. The team that could adapt better to the conditions was going to win the game and that night it wasn’t us.”
Prior to kick off, the Panthers’ field had standing water on it. Rain had fallen since Thursday and continued to fall all day Friday. Right before kick off, the rain begun to fall harder, making the field sloppier.
“The footing on the field was very, very bad,” Hoffman said. “Our linemen couldn’t get there footing to get a push and our backs couldn't cut. Overall, the footing played a very big part in the game.”
Although Hoffman, senior Ryan Rogers and senior Landon Ausherman weren’t able to grip the field as they have all season in dry conditions, Berg thought the Paola running backs overcame the slick, muddy field.
“If you watch us on film, it looked like we were trying to run on ice,” he said. “I thought their backs ran hard. You’ve got to put the conditions out of your mind, and I thought they did a good job of that. We played cautious, I thought. We ran cautious and they ran hard.”
Despite the sloppy conditions, three big plays by the Panthers in the first half doomed Baldwin. The first was early in the contest. On a third-down-and-12, Panthers’ running back Skylar Hawkins broke a 70-yard run on the third play of the game.
“We had them in the perfect spot at the beginning of the game,” Berg said. “The wind and rain was in their face. On third-and-long, we missed tackles and he broke that 70-yard run. Just simple execution mistakes.”
Baldwin responded later in the first quarter with a long drive of its own. Rogers finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter. The Bulldogs’ two-point conversion play failed, but they only trailed 7-6.
Two big plays for Paola came later in the quarter. After Baldwin was stopped on a third-down attempt on its own 18-yard line, Paola blocked the BHS punt and recovered it at the BHS 6-yard line.
Paola scored a touchdown on the next play. On Baldwin’s next drive, Rogers threw a screen pass to Hoffman that was tipped up into the air. A Panthers player intercepted the pass and scored on a 26-yard interception return during the final minute of the half.
“The blocked punt was an execution mistake,” Berg said. “We hadn’t done that all year, and we lost focus. Playing in those conditions, you have to ignore the conditions and concentrate on your execution. We didn’t do a very good job of that.”
Baldwin trailed 21-6 at halftime, but had time for a comeback. BHS marched the opening drive of the second half down the field with ease. A fumble by Rogers stopped the drive and gave Paola the ball back on its own 8-yard line.
“Our team is built for that kind of game,” Berg said. “Going in, that’s what we thought. I still believe our offense is built for that, even though we do direct snap it. We have a great center and he had great snaps all night. We just did not do a good job of taking care of the ball and avoiding penalties. Those are the two phases of the game that absolutely killed us.
“We turned the ball over in crucial times and we had a punt blocked,” he said. “Then every drive in the first half was hurt by a big penalty. When you’re only getting three or four yards per play because of the mud, you can’t get five or 10-yard penalties that really hurt your offense.”
Paola will host Louisburg (12-0) Friday with the winner advancing to the state championship game on Nov. 27.