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Published: Friday, 8/22/2008

Defiance slips by Napoleon

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

NAPOLEON The football teams from Defiance and Napoleon had banged heads 86 times before last night, so quite a rivalry has been built over the years.

But even this storied rivalry saw an exciting new chapter last night. Roughly 6,000 fans crowded into Buckenmeyer Stadium to see Defi ance claim a 21-20 victory to open the season.

You d be surprised [how many guys told me it was just another game]. Quite a few did, Napoleon coach Tory Strock said.

Once the opening kickoff was made, I tried to treat it that way. I tried not to look at the surroundings, because it would make you tighten up.

The contest had just about everything a high school football game should have back-and-forth action, big plays for touchdowns, and plenty of suspense down to the final seconds. It also had something a football game shouldn t: a five minute rain delay in the third quarter when the sprinklers came on and sprayed the field, players and officials.

In the end the hero was Defiance s Travis Spitnale, who ran for a game-high 187 yards and scored twice in the second half to help his team snap a four-game losing streak against the Wildcats.

The Bulldogs dominated play in a scoreless fi rst quarter before the Wildcats, who gained just one yard in that period, used apair of big play to build a 14-0 halftime advantage.

Their first strike came on second-and-nine at Napoleon s 32 when quarterback Andrew Keller found Clint Detmer behind the Defiance defense for a 68-yard scoring strike.

Napoleon forced the Bulldogs into a three-and-out, and on the third play of the next drive Keller found Detmer alone in the flat with a pass that Detmer caught, churned through a pair of defenders, and carried 40 yards for another score.

They hit a pass against a sophomore we had to put in because of cramps, Defiance coach Jerry Buti said. Then they hit that other pass where the guy broke a bunch of tackles, which was disappointing because tackling had been our strength in the preseason.

But in the second half the Bulldogs offense dominated. Defiance ran 39 plays in the second half literally, because they never attempted a forward pass. And that punishing ground game churned up 247 second half yards, with Spitnale gaining 130 of those yards on 24 carries.

I thought our offensive line was totally different in the second half, Buti said. We were getting pushed around in the first half, and our body language was bad.

At halftime, we challenged those guys on the line, and they responded.

The Bulldogs ground out 71 yards on their opening drive of the second half, with Alex Nofziger scoring on a 36-yard wide-receiver sweep.

Napoleon fumbled on its first play of the second half and Defiance recovered on the Wildcats 41. Spitnale closed a game-tying TD drive with a seven-yard score.

Midway through the final quarter, Defiance forced a punt and covered 69 yards for the go-ahead score, with Spitnale crossing the goal line from a yard out. But Napoleon had one more comeback up its sleeve. The Wildcats pushed the ball 54 yards on just four plays, with Jason Brown tiptoeing down the sideline from 24 yards out to get

within a point with 1:46 to play.

The problem for the Wildcats was that Detmer missed the potential game-tying PAT kick.

I m proud of our kids, because they showed grit andguts, Strock said. Defiance certainly had all the momentum. It would have been easy to fold up the tents, but we kept making plays and came back.

Defiance covered an on-side kick and, facing a fourth-and-one on Napoleon s 47, Spitnale gained two yards to claim the first down and seal the victory.

This is just a huge [win], Spitnale said. They had beaten us for years, so we were trying to make up for all [those losses]. This is just pure joy.

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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