Baldwin defense big in 19-0 playoff win
With the team averaging 47 points per game through the first nine contests of the season, it was easy to overlook the Baldwin Bulldog defense.
Although solid most games and spectacular in others, the defense had never been called on to win a game and its lunch-bucket attitude doesn’t have the flash as the offensive unit.
That changed Tuesday as the defense stepped up when needed most to shutout St. James Academy on a night the offense couldn’t deliver its usual numbers. The defense came onto the field four times in the first half needing to keep the Thunder out of the end zone if Baldwin was to maintain the 7-0 lead it owned after scoring on the game’s opening possession. It ended one Thunder drive near midfield when St. James chose to keep the offense on the field on fourth down. The defense came up big again in the Thunder’s closing drive of the half. In the drive, the visitors completed a 33-yard pass to take the ball to the Baldwin 40-yard line but lost momentum after Colton Stark’s big four-yard sack.
Baldwin’s defense was again up to the task when St. James received the second half kickoff and moved to Bulldog 36-yard line. Baldwin got the ball back when the defense forced an incomplete fourth-and-four pass. The drive was the last time St. James was able to move the ball onto Baldwin’s side of the field.
The game had not resemblance to the Bulldogs 56-18 blowout of the Thunder in the third game of the season. St. James avoided the turnovers that allowed that game to get out of hand, but Baldwin coach Mike Berg said there was another difference.
“They came to play tonight,” he said. “That’s an improved ball team. Playing a Frontier League schedule will make you better.”
Baldwin’s offense started the game like the team that has put up at least 35 first-half points in its last three games. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Bulldogs put together a sustained drive, which ended on a 18-yard Cornell Brown touchdown run.
But Baldwin couldn’t duplicate that in the first half and the big play, which has been so much a part of the Bulldogs’ offense, was absent on a night when rain and drizzle throughout the first half made footing tricky. The offense also was hampered by the temporary absence of senior quarterback Chad Berg, who left the field with about five minutes remaining in the first half after slipping on the turf. Berg would return in the second half but did not attempt to run the football.
The Baldwin offense game plan for the second half was simple and effective. The Bulldogs again and again ran its battering ram offensive line at the middle of the St. James defense.
“Our kids wanted to do that,” coach Berg said. “They said they wanted to run right at them, so I said ‘lets do that.’ They proved they could get it done.
“Our kids rallied tonight. We got punched in the mouth tonight, but we punched right back.”
The Bulldogs moved the ball 58 yards on nine plays in its first second-half possession, before stalling on the St. James five-yard line. On its next drive, Baldwin had an eight-play, 58-yard drive, which ended with Brown’s five-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Brown was then big on defense, intercepting a St. James pass to set the Bulldogs up at midfield. He ended the ensuing seven-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run behind the left side of the line.
With the win, the 10-0 Bulldogs will go on the road Saturday to play Tonganoxie. The Chieftains are 9-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of 5A power Mill Valley.
Coach Berg said his quarterback son injured his hamstring in the first half and it was decided he should not rush the ball in the second half. He would get treatments the next few days and would start at Tonganoxie, he said