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.”