The Bulldogs are not a one-man show.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
POLAND -- With Poland facing a crucial third down in overtime against Hubbard last Friday, Bulldog junior quarterback Sean Clayton threw a simple out pass to wideout Jake Bajerski.
The bread-and-butter pass play gave Poland a first down. And it's obvious why they chose it -- it's nearly unstoppable.
"It's my favorite route -- it's open about 80 percent of the time," said Clayton, who hit Josh Bero for a touchdown two plays later in Poland's 21-14 win. "Jake has great hands and he's my No. 1 receiver. I always look for him. Sometimes too much."
The tandem have hooked up a school-record 52 times this season, breaking Pete Modelski's 1999 record of 48 receptions.
"It just kind of came up," Bajerski said of the record. "I didn't even know about it. I just kept catching the ball."
The two have been Poland's most pleasant offensive surprises this season. Clayton has completed 141-of-223 passes for 1,651 yards and 12 touchdowns this year. Bajerski, who didn't catch a single pass last year, has 626 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
The two, along with fullback Jim Mitolo, will need to replace leading rusher Lou DaVanzo (977 yards, 14 touchdowns), who broke his thumb against Hubbard and will only play defense in this Friday's regional final against Mentor Lake Catholic at Mollenkopf Stadium.
Key contributor: Mitolo is the team's second-leading rusher with 112 carries for 583 yards and two touchdowns and the team's second-leading pass catcher with 22 receptions for 193 yards and four touchdowns.
He'll have an even bigger role this week. And he's not too happy about it.
"No, I'd like to still have [DaVanzo]," he said. "I'd rather be blocking for him."
Of course, the Bulldogs were never a one-man show. Clayton has thrown to nine different players this season -- he threw to eight different receivers in a win over Howland alone.
"He's really improved," said Bajerski. "He can scramble, he can throw. And I've gotten more opportunities this season. I think we have more quality receivers. It's been fun."
Not to say that Poland's offense has been perfect. The Bulldogs still rely on their defense to keep them in games.
"We sometimes win ugly," Clayton said. "I don't think we've played a whole game offensively. I think we've seem glimmers of what we can do, and we've been able to keep our composure. Our defense is just awesome and it's taken a load of pressure off us."
The team's special teams have also been strong. Junior Neil Harris is averaging over 20 yards per punt return and senior Vince Antonucci averages 13.3 in kickoff returns.
Mitolo averages over 33 yards per punt. And in a strange twist, senior Chris Holtzman has recovered onside kicks in consecutive weeks, even though neither kick was intentionally onside.
But on offense, it comes down to Clayton, Bajerski and Mitolo.
"We're going to do the same things we've been doing," Mitolo said. "We just need to play as a team."