By Joe Scalzo
Saturday’s Poland-Buchtel playoff game ended with a prayer and began with nobody giving the Bulldogs much of one.
It was the type of game where Poland could go on a 20-play, 91/2-minute drive and not score, only to get the ball back on the next play. It was the type of game where Buchtel’s special teams — aka its biggest weakness — would outplay one of the Bulldogs’ biggest strengths. And it was a game filled with a season’s worth of big plays — with the biggest saved for the game’s final 75 seconds.
Unfortunately for Poland, the Griffins made it.
With 1:11 left in the fourth quarter, on a game-tying two point conversion attempt, Poland quarterback Colin Reardon rolled right and fired into the end zone, only to get picked off by Buchtel senior Chevin Meadows. The Griffins then recovered the onside kick, picked up two first downs and ran out the clock on the game and Poland’s season, emerging with a 20-18 victory in a Division III regional quarterfinal at Infocision Stadium.
“We just didn’t finish,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Brungard. “This one’s a hard one to take because I thought we played well enough to win most of the time.
“I thought we had a good two-point play called but they covered it. What are you going to do?”
The two-point conversion attempt came after Jerry Lawman’s 1-yard TD capped a wild a series of plays. After Buchtel took a 20-12 lead with 11:49 left, the underdog Bulldogs got the ball at their own 11 and drove 88 yards in 20 plays. On the drive’s final play, a third-and-goal at the 1, Reardon fumbled the snap and Buchtel recovered at the 3 with 2:14 remaining.
But on the ensuing play, Griffins running back Marlon Oden fumbled and Poland LB Noah Hochendoner jumped on it at the 4.
“That was bizarre wasn’t it?” Brungard said. “I was calling the next first down play with a bunch of guys that were crying in the huddle because they thought it was over.”
After the failed conversion, Brungard called for a bunch formation on the onside kick, with all 11 Bulldogs converging in the center of the field. But Meadows dove on it at the Poland 49 to end the suspense.
“They’re a good team; I’m not going to take nothing away from them,” said Poland senior LB Clay Cooper, who had an interception and returned a fumble for a TD. “They played very well tonight, we played very well tonight and it came down to a couple big plays.
“We just came up short in the end.”
Reardon completed 12 of 17 passes for 78 yards and also carried eight times for 35 yards and a TD, while John Medina added 128 yards on 17 carries.
The Bulldogs were ultimately done in by their normally strong special teams, missing three field goals (two of which were blocked), failing to recover two onside kicks and a Buchtel kickoff (on the game’s first play, no less) and faltering on three two-point conversion attempts.
Oden carried six times for 84 yards and a TD for Buchtel (8-3), which will meet Parma Padua in next weekend’s regional semifinal.
But while Poland’s season ended, its pride remained, Cooper said.
“We lost a lot of good guys to graduation and as a team we worked hard ever since two-a-days and in the weight room,” he said. “We played really well as a team. I think we have a lot of good seniors on this team and I’m definitely going to remember this for awhile, probably the rest of my life.
“I just love those guys.”