By Steve wilaj
Watching his team’s 17-point fourth quarter lead slowly slipping away, Poland High coach Mark Brungard realized one thing.
“It made it very fun for the fans,” he said. “But very stressful for the coaches.”
Weathering a vicious Struthers comeback in the final five minutes, the Bulldogs held on to beat the Wildcats, 31-28, Friday night at Dave Pavlansky Field.
Too close for comfort? Sure, Brungard said.
But the Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 All-American Conference, American Division) will gladly take the victory. They’ll also take something else from the contest.
“I think a lesson we learned — especially against a team like Struthers that’s well-coached and plays with a lot of pride — is that you can’t take a break until the last second goes off the clock,” Brungard said.
Poland led 31-14 with just over five minutes remaining after an 8-yard touchdown run by Austin Wilson.
But a 3-yard TD run by Luke Witkowski, a recovered onside kick and a 21-yard pass from Gary Muntean to Cameron Suchora trimmed the Bulldogs’ lead to three.
“They made plays,” Brungard said. “They deserve the credit because they did what they needed to do to get back in the game.”
Struthers (4-2, 0-2) had one final chance, taking over possession with 2:36 remaining at its own 21. But after getting one first down, four straight incompletions ended the Wildcats comeback.
“We didn’t make the plays in the first half. Second half we came down with the ball more,” said Struthers coach Curt Kuntz. “But [Brungard] had a great game plan. He knows what we do. I had a great two years coaching with him and he stopped what we wanted to do.”
For example, trailing 17-7, the Wildcats marched down to the 1-yard line with under a minute to go in the first half. The Bulldogs then made a goal line stand, blanking Struthers efforts as time ran out.
“That was a huge boost,” Brungard said. “It was a 14-point swing…Adam Wollet made a great tackle on third down, so just a great stand overall.”
Kuntz also felt it was a crucial moment.
“I got to call a better play to give my kids a chance to be successful there,” he said. “It’s hard for me to go in the locker room and look them in the eyes when I think I cost us seven points right there.”
Poland also had its way with the Wildcats in the ground game. The Bulldogs rushed for 305 yards. Ross Gould led the charge with 154 yards on 19 carries.
“We talked all week about just running the football down their throats,” Gould said. “Everybody executed great — the fullbacks were great and the lineman blocked great.”
Marlon Ramirez and Jake Wolfe added rushing touchdowns for Poland. Wolfe was 7 of 10 for 100 yards through the air.
Muntean completed 13 of 24 passes for 193 yards, throwing two TDs and one interception. Witkowski rushed for 126 yards on 17 attempts.
“We’re past moral victories,” Kuntz said. “I don’t think there’s a guy that’s not ready to come in tomorrow morning and get better. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re gonna come out next Friday swinging.”