Swanton had never won a playoff football game prior to Friday night. And while they experienced obstacles in Friday’s matchup with Apple Creek Waynedale in the opening round of the Division V, Region 16 playoffs, including allowing 21 straight third quarter points to relinquish the lead, they held on for the 38-28 victory.
“It’s been 20 years since anything was good in our football program. It is more than trying to revitalize it and get them on the defibrillator, they had to exume the grave and bring it back,” said Swanton coach Mike Vicars on leading the Bulldogs to their first every playoff win. “Special, special kids.”
“It means everything. I know it means everything to the team,” said Swanton junior receiver Gunnar Oakes whose 15 yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter helped seal the win. “It is just a great feeling.”
Trailing 28-24 with a third-and-15 at their own 29 yard line, Bulldog signal caller Bryce McComb found Robbie Gilsdorf who caught the jump ball at the Golden Bear 40 with just 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs let the time run out in the third, but on the first play in the fourth, Tim Rankin busted through the right side of the defense for a 40 yard score to put Swanton back in front 31-28 with the addition of Nick Koback’s extra point.
After neither squad could get anything going on their next possession, Waynedale retained possession with around eight minutes left. Nick Strausbaugh kick started the drive for the Golden Bears with a 38 yard run out of the wildcat formation to put the ball at the Swanton 25.
They then gained two yards on first down, but a block in the back penalty called on second put the Bears in reverse. Three straight incompletions, the third coming on fourth-and-19, allowed the Bulldogs to take over at their own 34.
Swanton got their drive going when McComb hit Oakes on a comeback route on third down for 15 yards at the Waynedale 46.
“I have to give Bryce (McComb) a lot of props. He is a great quarterback,” said Oakes on the success of the passing game. “We made plays when we needed to.”
Michael Lawniczak followed that up with a four yard run, then Rankin picked up six for a first down, and Lawniczak 21 to put the ball at the 15 with four minutes remaining.
However, a pair of runs that essentially gained nothing, set the Dogs up with a third-and-10 at the 15. McComb and Oakes answered the bell, as Oakes created separation in the right corner of the end zone and made a leaping grab to make it 38-28 with just under three to go.
“That is not the first time that has happened. So you just kind of never give up on it,” said Vicars of the play. “Gunnar (Oakes) is great about high pointing the football and so is Robbie (Gilsdorf). That touchdown catch down there was amazing.”
“I knew we needed that,” said Oakes. “They battled back and we just needed something.”
The Bulldog defense then forced Waynedale into a fourth and 10 after two incompletions and a screen to Reid Stanley that went for no gain. On fourth down, Brevin Riebe over shot his receiver and Gilsdorf was there for his third interception of the day to close out the Bears.
Carrying a 24-7 lead into the start of the third quarter, Strausbaugh ended Swanton’s opening possession of the third with an interception of a pass intended for Gilsdorf at the Waynedale 37.
In a drive that took 3:30, Stanley capped the drive with an eight yard TD reception to cut into the Bulldog lead at 24-14 with 6:13 left in the third.
The Bears then got a gift when the Dogs muffed the ensuing kickoff, giving them possession at the Swanton 20. Ant Juan Lewis took a sweep for six yards on first down following the Bulldog mistake, then Strausbaugh carried for 10 to place the ball at the four yard line.
Two plays later, Strausbaugh walked in from two yards out and suddenly the 17-point Swanton advantage was reduced to three, 24-21, with 4:45 remaining in the third.
“We are usually so strong,” said Vicars of his special teams unit. “Especially the kickoff return there where we didn’t get to the ball. That was bad. We drill that all the time (in practice).”
The Dogs followed with a three-and-out, and Riebe hit Strausbaugh in double coverage on third down at the Swanton 20 for a TD to put Waynedale ahead for the first time, 28-24, with 1:44 left in the third.
Swanton jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first half on a 15 yard TD reception by Gilsdorf in the first quarter, 27 yard field goal from Koback at the 10:31 mark of the second quarter, and Lawniczak’s three yard plunge with 8:19 until half.
Waynedale responded later in the quarter when Riebe found Aaron Spidell up the sideline for a 47 yard TD to make it 17-7 with 1:40 on the clock.
However, another completion to Oakes, this time for 43 yards down to the Waynedale three, gave the Dogs a chance to add to their lead. They capitalized on second-and-goal from the one as McComb scored on a quarterback sneak with 26 seconds left, sending the game to the half with Swanton up 24-7.
McComb finished 9 of 15 through the air for 183 yards, two TDs and another on the ground. Oakes caught four of those passes for 113 yards and a score, while Gilsdorf had 3 for 50 with a TD. Lawniczak rushed for 88 yards and a score while Rankin had 79 yards and a score.
Swanton outgained Waynedale 378 to 291.
Defensively, Gilsdorf had three interceptions and McComb added another.
Spidell paced the Waynedale passing attack with four catches for 71 yards and a TD. Strausbaugh had two catches for 28 yards and a score.
Swanton now advances to the second round where they will take on top-seeded Milan Edison in the regional semifinal at Tiffin’s Frost-Kalnow Stadium Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Max Householder can be reached at 419-335-2010