Swanton played host to Ottawa Hills on Friday night in the most highly anticipated and locally hyped season opening Bulldog football game in almost two decades. The Bulldogs thrilled the home town crowd by thrashing the Green Bears 44-14.
After a relatively slow start and an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, the Dogs exploded for 22 second quarter points and took a 30 point lead into the locker room at halftime in front of over 1,500 fans in David W. Hansbarger Stadium.
“You just never know in the first game what you’re going to get. We’re so young at running back,” said Swanton head coach Mike Vicars. “I thought we played really well defensively. Special teams looked good. They had good tempo back there,”
The Bulldogs kicked off to the visitors to start the game and, despite a nice run back that placed the ball at their own 38 yard line, the Bears’ offense did not appear to be ready for prime time. They committed five unforced penalties, two delays of game and three false starts, then shanked a 15 yard punt to set Swanton up at the Green Bear 46.
Jonathan Shanks ripped off an 11 yard run to start the Dogs’ offense, then nine more on the ground after Michael Lawniczak ran for four yards. After a one yard loss, quarterback Bryce McComb tossed a short pass to Robbie Gilsdorf who broke out to the left and down the sidelines, diving into the end zone for Swanton’s first score of the year.
On the ensuing PAT attempt, the Bears were whistled for an off sides penalty, prompting Vicars to send in a running package and Lawniczak punched it in from the one yardline, giving the Bulldogs an 8-0 lead with 5:24 left to in the first.
Following the kickoff, Ottawa Hills performed a little better in their second offensive series, picking up a first down and no penalties, but the Swanton offense stiffened and the Bears punted again.
With the ball back in their hands the Bulldogs put together a 68 yard drive highlighted by a 40 yard scamper by Lawniczak to pay dirt. Nick Koback booted the extra point and the Swanton lead was now 15-0 with 6:51 to go in the first half.
As well as the Bulldog offense was playing the defense played even better. They pushed the Green Bear offense backwards in the next series to force another punt to the Swanton 46. Two 19 yard runs, one by Cameron Hitchen and the other by McComb followed by a personal foul for a late hit had the Dogs knocking on the door at the Green Bear two yardline. Hitchen banged into the line twice, scoring on his second attempt and Swanton was up 22-0 at the 2:19 mark after the Koback PAT.
Just before the end of the half the Dogs put together another scoring drive. McComb hit Gunnar Oakes with two key passes to pick up first downs, then ran in from 21 yards out on a quarterback keeper. Swanton then faked the PAT attempt and McComb scooted into the left corner of the end zone to send the Dogs off the field with a 30-0 advantage at the half.
In the second half, with the Dogs holding a 30 point lead, the recently implemented OHSAA running clock rule went into effect. Designed primarily to curtail lopsided scores, the rule, as coach Vicars pointed out, does have drawbacks.
“It cuts down on your ability to play younger guys. To give them a lot of reps,” he explained. You want to get your guys (starters) some energy and playing time, too.”
From a scoring standpoint, the second half was evenly played. Swanton scored on an eight yard run by Justin Timpe and a 38 dash by Zach Leahey and Ottawa Hills had two long yardage touchdown plays in the fourth quarter for the 44-14 final.
The victory gives the Bulldogs a 1-0 start to the season for the first time since 2007. “It feels great,” said senior wide receiver and defensive back Robbie Gilsdorf who gave a standout performance while playing both ways and returning punts and kickoffs. “We just got in our grove. Bryce was hitting his receivers and running backs were hitting their holes.”
As expected, Swanton dominated statistically as well as on the scoreboard. They racked up 538 yards of total offense including 436 on the ground.
Lawniczak paced the ground game with 141 yards on just 8 carries. Leahey added 93 yards, McComb 67 and Hitchen 60.
McComb was 8 for 14 for 91 yards and one touchdown while Gilsdorf caught four passes for 45 yards and Oakes had four for 46 yards.
Swanton now travels to Tiffin for a match up with Calvert on Saturday night beginning at 7 p.m.
Bill O’Connell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org