By Travis Smola
The Vicksburg Varsity football team opened its season with a shutout win against the Dowagiac Cheiftains 35-0.
The first quarter was a defensive stalemate with the two teams trading punts on a series of 3-and-outs. “We didn’t play well to start off,” Coach Tom Marchese said. “They (Dowagiac) played very well defensively in the first.”
Quarterback Brenden Lovell struggled early on, going 0 for 4 on Vicksburg’s first three drives. “He was a little jittery,” Marchese said. But on a night when the Vicksburg defense forced six turnovers, opportunities came as they kept stopping Dowagiac. Finally, the Bulldogs capitalized on their fourth series.
Vicksburg capped off a six-play drive with Lovell making a beautiful 36-yard pass to a wide-open Blake Rankin, who caught the ball around the five-yard line and easily strode in for the score. A two-point conversion made it 8-0 with 7:44 in the second.
After a Chieftain 3-and-out, the Bulldog offense struck again on the next series. This time Lovell lofted a pass perfectly into the left corner of the end zone, where Deondre Lovell pulled it in for the score. Deondre then caught the PAT to make the score 16-0.
Dowagiac started to put together a decent drive after that score, but their drive was stalled when Chieftain quarterback Scott Hassle was sacked and stripped of the ball. Vicksburg recovered and ended the quarter.
On the opening kick of the second half, Rankin brought the crowd to its feet with the play of the game. He snapped up the bouncing squib kick and found a seam to run through for 75 yards untouched and a touchdown. “That was big for us,” Marchese said.
But Rankin wasn’t done there. On the next possession, he made a diving interception to give his team the ball. Marchese praised Rankin for his hustle on both sides of the ball. “He’s confident in everything he’s done,” Marchese said. “He has a very good football IQ.”
The play did set off a bizarre series of events as the Bulldogs gave the ball right back to the Chieftains on a Nick Wallace fumble. But on the very next play, Brendan Crawford intercepted it right back for Vicksburg.
Two plays later, Lovell hit Rankin again in the right side of the end zone for six to make it 28-0 after the PAT run was no good.
A few drives later, the Bulldog defense struck again when Seth Bensen picked off a pass and pushed his way through several defenders on his way to the end zone. “We capitalized on the turnovers,” Marchese said. Joe Brady got into the game and knocked through the PAT to make it 35-0.
After that, Marchese put in Garrett Ketelaar, Jacob Root, Austen Gohl and others to give backups some playing time. “We try to get as many kids in the game as possible when the opportunity arises,” Marchese said.
He said the team played well, but he’s hoping for faster starts in the next few games. “We’ve got to start better,” he said. The big positive for the night was the defense. “We tackled really well for the first game,” Marchese said.
The Bulldogs face the Edwardsburg Eddies next week in a grudge rematch of last year’s Division 4 District Championship, a game Vicksburg lost 34-6.