TRAVERSE CITY — Last week they talked the talk.
This week they walked the walk.
After faltering late in a loss to New Lothrop last week, the St. Francis football team declared the need to finish strong.
On Friday, in a tight game against Gaylord, the Gladiators followed through on that.
Behind two 15-play drives that resulted in touchdowns to start the second half, St. Francis bounced back from its season-opening loss by downing the Blue Devils 21-7 at Thirlby Field.
Joe Trucco scored on a 5-yard run in the first drive of the third quarter. Then, after Gaylord answered with a touchdown early in the fourth quarter — following a St. Francis turnover on a bobbled punt return that sliced the Gladiators lead to 13-7 — St. Francis put the game away with another lengthy drive that ended with Byron Bullough pounding in a touchdown from 10 yards out with four minutes to go. Parker Guss found Trucco for the two-point conversion to complete the scoring for the night.
“We came out ready to go,” said Guss. “We just pounded on them. We were just wearing them down and our line did a great job out there leading the way. We went hard there running it and it was a great second half. We got the ball second half so we had to go out there and we had to have a big drive and score to set the tone in the second half.”
It took almost the entire first half for the Gladiators to get their offense going as they failed to get a first down in their first three drives, then fumbled the ball away on their fourth drive. Finally, after forcing Gaylord to turn the ball over for the second time, St. Francis broke a scoreless tie with 27 seconds remaining when Bullough scored from 4 yards out. Jimmy Smith kicked the extra point to give the Gladiators a 7-0 lead at the half.
“Unfortunately, I think we had way too many turnovers and mental mistakes in the first half,” said St. Francis coach Greg Vaughan. “ I don’t think we had any punts in the second half and that goes back to we didn’t turn the ball over and didn’t have penalties. That’s something we’re going to have to build on. We’re going to have to get some of those guys who are a little bit young and fresh and the first time playing varsity football to unders
“This was a great game. First half was a great game between the two sides, I think. Luckily, we came out on top.”
St. Francis amassed 209 of their 251 total yards on the ground. Bullough had 59 yards on 13 carries and Daniel Gallagher added 57 yards on 10 totes. Trucco (44 yards) and Adam Armour (43 yards) also played key roles carrying the ball.
The times that Gaylord (0-2) was able to move the ball on St. Francis came from using a wide open passing game. The Blue Devils’ quarterback, Steven Fitzek, went 18-for-31 for 167 yards. The Gladiators limited Gaylord to 41 yards on the ground, after the Blue Devils chewed up 293 yards rushing in their opener against Cheboygan.
Gaylord’s lone touchdown came on a 5-yard run by Fitzek — who eluded Armour’s attempt to get him behind the line of scrimmage and broke two more tackles on the way to the end zone — but Gaylord set up that score by completing six passes out of the 13 plays it ran. Armour led the St. Francis defense with nine tackles
“It’s something we’re familiar with, but they’re still going to get you,” said Vaughan. “It’s a big-play offense. It’s kind of like going against the option. You better do everything right — assignment football.”
“I think at the d-line we did a good job of getting penetration and getting off guys,” said St. Francis defensive lineman Jake Khoury. “Linebackers did a good job of flowing or filling to hit those guys when they came through the hole. (Defensive backs), they covered them like they were stuck on them like glue.”