Buti wasn't sure how his team would respond against the Panthers, particularly once the game reached the second half. The Bulldogs went scoreless in the second halves of their final two games of the regular season.
Such concern proved to be without merit as Defiance proved quite productive after halftime against Maumee.
The Bulldogs generated three scoring drives in the second half and went on to a 28-10 victory before a capacity crowd on hand for the first-round playoff clash. Their next opponent will be Avon Lake.
The Bulldogs, who trailed 10-7 at halftime, outscored the Panthers 21-0 in the second half. Running back Eric Steyer scored two of his three touchdowns after halftime to key the Bulldogs' comeback.
The stocky 5-10, 171-pounder rushed for 206 yards on 24 carries, including touchdown runs of 53 and 31 yards against the Panthers (8-3). He also turned a simple screen pass into a 15-yard touchdown reception.
“You just have to give credit to my offensive linemen for opening the holes,” said Steyer, who gained 136 yards on the ground in the second half. “They opened the holes and I just ran through them.”
The Bulldogs (9-2) racked up 395 total yards against a Maumee defense that found itself on the field for much of the second half. Defiance quarterback Austin Keel, a 5-11 sophomore, completed 12 of 18 passes for 115 yards. He also rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries, including a 10-yard TD scamper that put the Bulldogs ahead 14-10 with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter. The TD, which proved to be the game-winner, capped an impressive 14-play drive that covered 74 yards and chewed up more than seven minutes of the quarter.
“They just wore us down,” Maumee coach John Boles said. “They came through on a lot of third-down situations. They're tough. You have to give them credit.”
The Panthers, who were held to 189 total yards, got off to a good start against Defiance. They went ahead 7-0 by using their second possession of the game to march 76 yards on nine plays. Chris Jones capped the scoring drive with a 37-yard touchdown run with 7:46 to play in the first quarter.
However, Steyer didn't take long to tie the game at 7. He broke free for his 53-yard touchdown run with 6:20 remaining in the quarter.
Maumee took a 10-7 lead into halftime after Kurt Kramp booted a 42-yard field with 1:01 left in the second quarter. Kramp's kick came shortly after teammate Tommy Hunyor came up with a loose football when Defiance's Isaac Lee had trouble hauling in a punt by Kramp.
Boles went into halftime feeling good about the Panthers' chances with a half to play.
“I thought we were sitting pretty well going into the second half,” Boles said. “They just made some plays when they had to.”
Those key second-half plays were pleasing to the Bulldogs' coach.
“I thought the key defensive thing for us was getting them in second-and-long and third-and-long situations,” Buti said. “I give that team a lot of credit. That was a good team we beat.”
The Bulldogs' defense, led by Dan Orta, Travis Heilshorn and Lee, limited Maumee to one big offensive play, Jones' TD run. Jones was held to 58 yards rushing on 14 carries. Maumee QB Alex Reese completed 11 of 18 passes for 121 yards. He was intercepted twice.
Sean Parry caught seven passes for 98 yards for Maumee.