The Swanton football team was not going to be denied a win in their home opener Friday versus Rogers. They had to fight through adversity both in the game and in the week leading up to it, as first-year coach Denton Saunders missed Thursday’s practice with strep throat and the other coaches had to carry the load.
In the game, despite turning it over three times (1 fumble, 2 interceptions), the Bulldogs held down the Rams in a 19-7 win at Hansbarger Field.
“I’m just proud of these guys. They played their hearts (out). They were tough, they were disciplined. They had a great attitude all four quarters and we definitely outworked them,” said Saunders who captured his first win as a head coach. “Our coaching staff, they did a fantastic job all week. And they worked their tails off and they deserved this win. Coaching staff deserves a big shout out. I was sick with strep and I couldn’t make it yesterday. So they picked up the slack. They had a great practice Thursday. Flawless Thursday is what we called it. And we were pretty flawless.”
A defensive stop and special teams play helped the Dogs seize control for good past the midway point of the fourth quarter. With the Rams backed up inside their own 20 yard line, they went three-and-out after picking up eight yards on first down. The Ram punter then mishandled the snap on the ensuing punt, where Swanton dropped him back at the 14.
Then, the Dogs would be forced into a fourth-and-2 from the Ram four, but they got Rogers to jump offsides for the first down. Xavier Wiemken bulled his way into the end zone on the very next play and after the extra point was missed, the lead was 19-7 with 3:49 to go.
Swanton recovered a Rogers fumble on the kickoff, allowing them to bleed the clock.
In the first half the Dogs took just over five minutes off the clock on the game’s opening drive, one that ended in Riley Hensley’s 23-yard field goal to put them ahead 3-0. The drive was kept alive thanks to a seven yard scamper from Devon Crouse on a fake punt on fourth-and-6 at their own 41.
Rogers tried a fake punt on their first possession, but the try failed giving Swanton the ball at the Ram 45 to begin their second possession.
The Dogs started the drive with a 29-yard dart over the middle to Crouse from quarterback Trent Weigel. Two plays later, Weigel hit Justyn Bartlett on an inside slant that the senior receiver took to the end zone from 16 yards away. Add in Hensley’s extra point and Swanton led 10-0 with 4:56 left in the opening quarter.
Swanton missed a field goal later in the quarter, then mistakes allowed Rogers to get back in it.
On second-and-10 at the Ram 46 yard line to start the second quarter, Weigel over shot his intended target, Ian Saunders, and was intercepted by Shonjae Gibson who returned it to the Bulldog 47.
That led to Rogers QB Jevon Hudspeth finding Emmett Smith on a crossing pattern over the middle, and when the Swanton defense lost track of him he galloped into the end zone for a 14-yard score. This cut the Dogs’ lead to 10-7 with 10:18 left in the half.
However, that was all the Dogs allowed from the Rams offense, holding them to only 130 total yards and negative six on the ground.
“Our defense played their hearts out,” stated Saunders. “We had a couple letdowns last week on defense. So all week we preached 11 to the ball. We preached it early on in the season, we kind of got away from it week one and week two. So as a staff, we decided that we need to refocus and get 11 guys to the football. We swarmed that football this week (in practice).
“We knew they (Rogers) had an athletic quarterback, so we weren’t gonna rush a whole lot. And Keith, Brendan Keith, played his heart out. He was disciplined, he did his job, and he had a couple sacks by not rushing. The quarterback would just scramble because nobody was open, we had good coverage, and he would scramble right to our defensive end who wasn’t rushing. He made the play. That’s something that he hasn’t done the last couple weeks.”
Swanton was able to regain momentum to begin the second half, forcing a three-and-out from Rogers. When they got the ball, the Dogs drove down to the Ram seven but the drive stalled, leading to Hensley’s 24-yard field goal which put them up 13-7.
Rogers would have the ball in Swanton territory on more than one occasion in the third quarter and early on in the fourth, but they either turned it over on downs or threw an interception each time.
Tyler Gowing paced the Swanton rushing attack with 80 yards on 31 carries. Weigel hit 12 of 24 passes for 130 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Hensley caught three passes for 44 yards, Crouse brought in three for 37 yards, and Bartlett four for 34 yards and a TD.
After earning their first win a week after narrowly losing to Bowsher, Saunders feels good about where his team is at heading into Northwest Ohio Athletic League play. But he knows they must avoid mistakes in order to defeat Evergreen (2-1) next week.
“There’s still things we can improve on,” said Saunders. “We got to improve up front offensively. We got to sustain blocks longer. We got to catch the football and hang onto the football. We can’t have turnovers. This game shouldn’t have been as close as it was. We had way too many turnovers. I’m extremely proud of these kids and what they’ve done. And I feel confident moving forward. I think we’re getting better every week and that’s all we can ask for.”
Swanton hosts Evergreen for Homecoming Friday night.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010