By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — For the majority of three quarters the St. Francis defense had done enough to keep the Gladiators in the thick of Friday night’s football season opener against New Lothrop.
The Gladiators couldn’t avoid giving up the big play in crunch time, however, and suffered a 28-7 loss to the Hornets in a battle of heavyweights at Thirlby Field.
New Lothrop scored three times in the final 13 minutes — all on plays of 60 yards or more — to break open a deadlocked and defensive contest.
Josh Wendling put New Lothrop ahead 14-7 when he broke through the Gladiators defense and scored on an 82-yard run in the final minute of the third quarter. The Hornets tacked on touchdowns the next two times they touched the ball, one on a dazzling 62-yard punt return by Amari Coleman and the next coming on a 60-yard burst to paydirt by Taylor Krupp.
“Some pretty poor tackling. Obviously, they’re fast and athletic kids and we added to their athleticism by having some poor tackles,” said St. Francis coach Greg Vaughan. “One of the touchdown runs I counted three kids that touched the kid three different times on the field and couldn’t make the tackle. Definitely they score in spurts because they’re big play, which you can see. We were able to stop them at times, but it was the big play that stopped us. It’s not like they drove down the field methodically on us. End of the third quarter, going into the fourth quarter, they kind of took over. I would’ve like to see us respond a little bit more.”
Prior to New Lothrop’s late flurry of scores, the Hornets had been stifled by a St. Francis defensive unit that limited them to five first downs.
“Their defense, they did a fantastic job,” New Lothrop coach Clint Galvas said of the Gladiators’ defense. “Obviously, they know about Amari and Wendling coming in. They did a good job all night. Amari popped one in the first quarter, then they did a good job of containing him there. Even did a great job on Josh. We broke one and he ended up putting a nice run on, but hats off to their defense because it really was two long runs. At the end we’re happy to come out of here with a victory against a really, really good team. Momentum changed a little in the third with the long run and then the punt return. That’s kind of the game. It very easily could’ve gone the other way.”
Coleman, New Lothrop’s speedster, led the Hornets with two scores, running for a 54-yard touchdown on their first possession of the night. He finished with five carries for 74 yards and four receptions for 25 yards. Wendling rushed for 111 yards on eight carries.
“You go back to last year and you look at the stats and Amari’s not touching the ball all the time,” said Vaughan. “But when he does he’s getting big plays and I think that’s what you saw tonight. I would say tonight Amari wasn’t necessarily their offense. Definitely the punt return and those types of things are a huge momentum shift on their part, which he added to. I think their offense is pretty well balanced. You can’t just look at Amari and stop Amari, you’ve got to stop the other kid, too.”
Galvas was pleased with the performance of his top player, who has committed to play for Central Michigan.
“The kid’s a special athlete,” Galvas said. “Other than the stupid personal foul (in the second quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct) I thought he played great. Even when he wasn’t running he was doing a great job blocking and doing all the little things. He’s a great team guy.”
Like New Lothrop, St. Francis scored on its first offensive possession as Adam Armour punched in a touchdown from 3 yards out, capping off a 15-play drive. The rest of the night St. Francis struggled to find a consistent rhythm when it had the ball. St. Francis moved into New Lothrop territory on three other drives, but they could never turn that into points. That especially became troublesome when the Gladiators fell behind by a couple of scores.
“I felt like, in the third quarter, ‘hey, we can march on these guys.’” said Vaughan. “The problem with our offense is we aren’t necessarily a spread, big-play offense. So we get down by a couple of scores and it gets a little big harder to do.”
St. Francis finished with 231 yards rushing on 46 carries. Byron Bullough led the Gladiators with 78 yards on 14 carries.
The Gladiators host Gaylord next week. St. Francis sophomore halfback/defensive back Joe Trucco acknowledged the Gladiators just need to get better and put together a complete game.
“It was just simple errors,” Trucco said. “First-game jitters, too. We played a good team. We know we have it in us to play all four quarters. We’ve got the depth and we’ve got the talent, for sure. We know we have it in us to go out and dominate the game.”