By Greg Gulas
Alexis Zubick’s 18-yard field goal with time running out gave Springfield a 17-14 win over East Palestine in the Inter Tri-County League opener on Friday.
“I told myself prior to the kick that I had no choice but to make it,” said Zubick. “Our offensive line does an excellent job of protecting me and the hold by Joe [Ohlin] was perfect so everything just clicked on that final play.
“When I saw the ball go through the uprights, I just put my hand up and the next thing I knew the whole team had me up on their shoulders. That was an absolutely great feeling.”
Defense was the name of the game in the initial half as the Tigers held the Bulldogs to just 13 total yards on 27 plays, including just 3 rushing ground yards.
Springfield quarterback Nick Russell was 8-of-16 for 127 yards in the first half but the Tigers managed just 144 yards as the half ended in a scoreless tie.
“We struggled in the first half but the team stuck with me,” said Russell. “The offensive line continued to provide plenty of protection and the receivers continued to ruin crisp routes.
“As for Alexis, we have all of the confidence in the world in her and she proved tonight why she is such an important part of this team.”
The Tigers (4-0, 1-0) struck barely a minute after intermission when Russell found Tom Mastran from 46 yards for a 7-0 advantage.
The Bulldogs (1-3, 0-1) needed just 53 seconds to answer when Derek Smith found the end zone from the 2.
On the ensuing kickoff, East Palestine’s Austen Reiser recovered a fumble at the Springfield 10 and two plays later Smith had his second TD, from 3 yards.
Russell, who threw for 250 yards, then found Scot Gorby from 28 yards with 5:19 remaining to knot the score at 14-all.
After the Bulldogs’ next drive stalled at their 36, punter Jake Dicello’s punt was fielded by Mastran and he raced 72 yards with what seemed to be the go-ahead touchdown.
A penalty on the Tigers, however, nullified the score but Springfield still had the ball at the Bulldogs’ 28 with 2:20 remaining.
Russell then guided the Tigers to the 1 with three seconds remaining, which set up Zubick’s game-winning field goal from the left hash mark.
“We had an excellent defensive effort tonight but it just wasn’t enough,” said East Palestine coach Gary Mattes. “Playing four of our first five games on the road is a challenge, but we’ll grow from this and get better.”
The Tigers have won their first four games to start the season for the first time since the 2000 campaign.
“Our defense really picked us up tonight,” said Springfield coach Sean Guerriero. “We had entirely too many turnovers and that is an area that we are going to have to work on. We talked about facing adversity all week in practice and met that challenge tonight head on. It’s nice to get that first league win and to be 4-0 for the first time in over a decade.”