BRYAN – Jonathon Shanks settled under a kickoff at the five yard line, ran towards the middle of the field, then cut to the right side to follow a line of blockers before finally crossing the goal line 95 yards away in a momentum-changing play that helped propel Swanton to a 45-7 victory over Bryan on Friday night. The runback did not just break open a close game, it was a play of personal redemption for Shanks who had played a pivotal role in allowing the Bears to score an earlier touchdown to move within seven points of the lead.
With Swanton leading 14-0 at the 4:27 mark of the second quarter, Shanks was flagged for roughing the kicker on the Bears’ field goal attempt, resulting in an automatic first down. Two plays later, Damon Beltz went over from seven yards out to cut the lead in half and the Bulldog coaching staff was not happy.
“The coach was upset with me for the penalty and asked me if I wanted to stay in,” said Shanks, describing the reaction he got from Swanton coach Mike Vicars. “I said ‘Yes’ and he said to prove it to him so I went all out.” And so did the rest of the team as they never looked back from there.
The Bulldogs had built their 14-0 lead with a very stingy defense and two clock-eating drives that finished with Tim Rankin touchdowns. The first was a 40 yard tackle-breaking run and the second, a short four yard push into the end zone, both followed by Nick Koback extra points.
Following the second kickoff the Swanton defense forced a three-and-out but fumbled away the punt return, leading to Bears’ touchdown and a big but short lived momentum swing.
“I always call those energy plays,” said Vicars of the Bryan score and the Shanks runback. “That touchdown gave them energy, got the crowd going and we were only up by seven and we were thinking “Oh my gosh”. And then ‘boom’. It was electric and it gave us a lot of energy. That was huge.”
Back up by 14 points with a 21-7 lead, the Dogs kicked off but quickly had the ball back in their hands thanks to a Rankin interception and a 47 yard return down to the Bryan eight yard line. The Bears were able to sack Bryce McComb for a five yard loss on the first play from scrimmage but the senior quarterback responded on the next play by scrambling around in the backfield before finding Gunnar Oakes on the far left side of the end zone for the score with just 31 seconds remaining. Koback was true on the point after attempt (PAT) and the half ended with a 28-7 Swanton lead.
Bryan kicked off to start the second half and surprised the Bulldog return team with an onside kick, recovering at the Swanton 37. But the Dogs defense answered the trick play by stuffing the Bears offense on four straight plays and took over on downs at their 29 yard line.
Rankin started the next drive with two runs for six yards, then McComb threw deep to Oakes for 38 yards down to the Bryan 27. A two yard run by Michael Lawniczak was followed by a 15 yard chop block penalty and a five yard illegal substitution call that pushed Swanton back to the 45.
On second down and 28, McComb sprinted to the right looking for an open receiver. Finding none and under a heavy rush, he spun around and headed back to the right, barely escaping several tacklers. Picking up a crushing block from Oakes, he turned up field and ran down the sideline and into the end zone for six more points, putting Swanton up 35-7 with 8:03 left in the third quarter.
Bryan received the ensuing kickoff but literally had no offensive response, netting a minus two yards on three plays. They punted back to Swanton and watched the Dogs grind out a 39 yard, nine play drive ending with Lawniczak punching it in from the one. This resulted in a 42-7 score, triggering the OHSAA running clock rule and motivated a lot of fans, from both sides of the field, to head for the parking lot.
Koback booted a 34 yard field goal in the fourth quarter to give Swanton consecutive 45-7 NWOAL road victories, a 5-0 record at the halfway point of the season, and 2-0 mark in the league.
“We were a little bit rocky there. We’re still learning. We didn’t play as well as we normally do on special teams,” commented Vicars on the relatively few issues the Bulldogs had. “But all in all these are great kids. They’re resilient. They make plays and do all those things and I’m really happy.”
On offense and defense the Bulldogs remained statistically consistent, racking up almost 300 yards of total offense while holding the Golden Bears under 100. Rankin led all rushers with 74 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns while McComb added 60 yards and a score. McComb also completed 70 percent of his passes, going 7 for 10 for 110 yards and one touchdown through the air. Five of those passes went to Oakes for 77 yards and a TD.
Crew Oberheim had four tackles on defense and Owen Dodd had three tackles with two going for a loss.
The undefeated Bulldogs now return home this Friday to face the 4-1 Evergreen Vikings for homecoming.
Bill O’Connell can be reached at email@example.com