McDONALD — Good football programs don’t celebrate major milestones without taking advantages of breaks and lucky bounces.
Friday, the McDonald High football team celebrated its 500th victory with a 29-20 triumph over Springfield. The challenge was anything but easy as the Tigers twice overcame frustrating mishaps for touchdowns to keep the Blue Devils close.
But seconds after Springfield’s Jimmy Zubyk’s fourth-quarter 21-yard touchdown run to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance, McDonald’s Nick Cupan turned brief Tigers hope into groans.
On the kickoff, the McDonald senior dropped the ball, prompting squeals from the Springfield fans. Cupan quickly picked up the bouncing football and completed a 72-yard kickoff return to give the Blue Devils a 29-14 lead with 8:20 to go.
“It hit me, bounced off the ground and I picked it up,” said Cupan who led the Blue Devils with 123 yards on 21 carries. “There was a hole and I hit it, I don’t know what happened after that.
“They did a good job of blocking — you can’t do anything without blocking,” Cupan said.
Despite the deflation from the long return, the Tigers weren’t finished as junior quarterback Brad Ferraro engineered a 12-play, 68-yard scoring march.
The drive was capped by a 24-yard touchdown pass to Dylon DeJane, who caught the ball in the middle of the field at about the 12 and bulled his way into the end zone to reduce the lead to nine points with 2:34 to play.
Kicker Alexis Zubyk, who booted extra points in her first two varsity attempts, missed on her third, keeping the Blue Devils ahead by two scores.
“It was an exciting game,” McDonald coach Dan Williams said. “I told our kids that we played well at times, but one thing we did [was] hustle all night. We played hard all night.
“It’s the best [opening] test we’ve had in a long, long time,” Williams said. “This is the best [opening opponent] we’ve had since I’ve been here. Our kids rose up at the right times.”
McDonald, which went unbeaten in the 2008 regular season to win the Inter Tri-County League Tier Two crown, took the opening possession 68 yards for a 7-0 lead. Cupan scored on a 3-yard run.
In the second quarter, quarterback Zach Puntel found Justin Rota alone in the Springfield secondary and hit him for a 75-yard scoring toss.
“The defensive back bit on [a fake} and I knew I was wide open so I put my hand up,” Rota said. “He hit me and it was just perfect.”
Nicola Accordino’s conversion pass to Devin Bansberg gave McDonald a 15-0 lead.
Joe Ohlin, one of the defenders on the long touchdown, quickly atoned by taking the kickoff 69 yards to the McDonald 15. Two plays later, Dylon DeJane ran the ball in from the 16 to slice the lead to 15-7.
The Tigers controlled the ball for much of the third quarter. But a snap over punter Tanner Avnet resulted in a 26-yard loss that eventually set up McDonald’s third touchdown (Cupan, 13-yard-run) for a 22-7 edge.
“McDonald has a very good football team,” Springfield coach Sean Guerriero said,
“and for our kids to hang in there and fight back the way we did off a couple of mishaps [was important].
“They fought through the whole game and that’s what we ask for,” Guerriero said. “We had some missed opportunities but I think they played well.”
Cupan said getting the 500th win “means a lot. We wanted to do it for everyone that played before, all the veterans up in the stands watching us,” Cupan said. “It felt good getting the 500th win. Everyone will remember the class that got that.”