By Tim Cleveland
Without looking at the final score, the way Poland’s special teams played Friday night against Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in a Division III, Region semifinal, it would seem as if the Bulldogs would have been competitive.
Poland had a 90-yard kickoff return from Austin Wilson and forced the Fighting Irish into two missed field goals and a missed PAT.
However, the Bulldogs gave back three turnovers — which SVSM converted into 14 points — and their offense failed to score in a 35-7 defeat at Gilcrest Field.
“We saw them create turnovers all year on all the films we had,” Poland coach Mark Brungard said. “We just couldn’t generate enough offense. Our defense played outstanding; we just gave them short fields all night.”
SVSM coach Dan Boarman praised his team’s defensive effort.
“I’ve said it all year,” he said. “I know how our defense is as strong as all that. They did a great job.”
Trailing by two scores at halftime, Wilson got Poland (10-2) on the board to begin the third quarter by returning a kickoff 90 yards for the touchdown to make the score 14-7.
“That was a real big play for us,” Wilson said. “We really needed that motivation coming out of halftime. I thought that brought us up for a little bit.
“Overall, I think our special teams were a lot better than St. V’s were. Still, it wasn’t enough to come out on top, but we did what we could.”
“It gave our kids a lot of confidence,” Brungard said. “The kickoff return was key; Austin Wilson’s fast. He did a good job and didn’t get caught.”
After forcing a SVSM punt on the subsequent possession, it appeared the Bulldogs would get back in the game.
On the second play of the next drive, Dom Petrony had a pass batted into the air and intercepted by Tyrece Speaight, giving SVSM (12-0) the ball on the Poland 24.
“Down 14-7 we had that tipped pass that they intercepted,” Brungard said. “I thought that was a turning point.”
The defending Division III state champions didn’t let the opportunity pass by, as on the fifth play of the drive, Aaron Adkins went in from the 4 to give the Fighting Irish a 21-7 advantage.
Right at the end of the third quarter, Wilson put the ball on the turf, which was recovered by SVSM’s Vince Lockett. Three plays later, Lockett scored from 26 yards out.
Poland was additionally hurt by the absence of starting quarterback Jacob Wolfe, who broke his throwing hand in Week 8 against Hubbard. Petrony went 1 for 6 for 6 yards and an interception before suffering a rib injury in the third quarter, being replaced by Nick Buccieri.
“Dom Petrony did a great job, then he got injured,” Brungard said. “We had to go deep into the well. At that point, we were just trying to get out of the game healthy.”
Ross Gould led Poland with 110 yards on 27 carries. The Bulldogs were able to run the ball, but weren’t able to establish a rhythm against the Fighting Irish’s defense.
“They’re a heck of a team,” Gould said. “They’ve got a bunch of Division I recruits. We did all we could.”
Poland fell behind 14-0 in the second quarter, as Jarel Woolridge took a double reverse 49 yards for a score and Speaight caught a 25-yard TD pass from Aaron Bushner.
In the second quarter, the Bulldogs drove from their own 45 to SVSM’s 20, but the drive stalled. Bob DeVito missed a 37-yard field goal to end the drive.
Parris Campbell paced SVSM with 128 yards on 18 carries. The Ohio State commit had a 17-yard TD for the final score of the game with 3:34 to play.
SVSM will play Hubbard next Friday for the regional championship. The Eagles (12-0) hammered Aurora 49-19 Friday to set up a rematch of last season’s regional semifinal that the Fighting Irish won 54-14 on the way to winning state.