By Travis Smola
After the clock hit zero at Friday’s Division 3 District Final against Coldwater, head coach Tom Marchese didn’t leave the field until he had personally thanked every player.
A long line of players, many with tears in their eyes after Vicksburg fell 35-14 to the Cardinals, all stopped to hug their coach as the team finished the season with an 8-3 record.
“To get here, it’s a lot of hard work,” Marchese said. “I just wanted to thank them for their belief and trust.”
Hopes had been high going into the playoff game after the Bulldogs knocked off Marshall in their first playoff game the week prior. Coldwater received to start the game and immediately went on an 11 play scoring drive to go up 7-0. The drive burned up half of the first quarter.
The usually stout Bulldog defense couldn’t stop a strong Cardinals run game that got multiple runners involved.
On Coldwater’s second drive, senior linebacker Brendan Crawford recovered a Coldwater fumble, but the Bulldog offense turned the ball over on downs six plays later. On the first play after the turnover, Coldwater running back Spencer Burns broke through the Vicksburg defense for an 80 yard rushing touchdown.
In the second quarter, both senior running backs Nick Wallace and Seth Benson ended up injured in the game right as the Bulldogs started to get the ball moving on the ground. Vicksburg started using designed quarterback runs by junior Brenden Lovell to make up for the loss in the ground game.
Right before the half, it paid off. The Bulldogs were finally able to drive the ball deep and Lovell plowed his way into the end zone for a two-yard score. Freshman Joe Brady tacked on the extra point to cut Coldwater’s lead to 21-7 at the half.
In the second half, Coldwater was first to score again after they turned a Garrett Ketelaar interception into points to make it 28-7 with just over one minute left in the third quarter. Vicksburg responded on the first play of the fourth quarter when Lovell hit junior receiver Blake Rankin with a wide open pass for a 57 yard touchdown. Brady made it 28-14 with the extra point kick.
On the ensuing kickoff, Vicksburg was flagged and forced to re-kick. On the re-kick, the Bulldogs went for a surprise onside kick. It appeared that Vicksburg recovered, but the referees had a conference and decided a Bulldog had touched the ball before it went ten yards and gave possession to Coldwater. The Cardinals failed to capitalize on the great field position however and Vicksburg had another chance. On a gadget play, senior Trace Slancik threw a bomb pass that was caught in Cardinal territory by junior Deondre Lovell.
But the Bulldogs then had four straight incomplete passes and turned the ball over on downs. Coldwater responded by driving the ball down the field before Cardinal fullback Sam DeMeester broke free for a 38 yard touchdown run to seal Coldwater’s win.
“It stinks, but at the end of the year only one Division 3 team stands,” Marchese said. He also credited Coldwater for their tough play.
While it was a hard loss, Marchese’s efforts in building a program appear to be paying off as this year was the first time ever the Bulldogs have been in the playoffs in consecutive seasons. He praised the efforts of his team, especially the ones playing their last game. “This group of seniors was no-nonsense and led by example,” Marchese said.