By Travis Smola
The Vicksburg Bulldogs varsity football team refused to go down without a fight in its season opener. It paid off with a 38-27 thriller win against the Dowagiac Chieftains.
The game was exciting enough to get the student body to rush the field and players afterwards.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the kids,” Head Coach Tom Marchese said. “We played all four quarters and fought to the end.”
The game started off with the bang as the Bulldogs had a long drive that was capped off with a 20-yard rumbling touchdown run by junior Caleb Welch. But Dowagiac responded a short while later on special teams with a returned touchdown punt.
The next Chieftain points came after a defender got in senior quarterback Garrett Ketelaar’s face and forced him to throw an interception that was returned 30 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 Dowagiac lead.
Ketelaar shook off the mistake and marched the Bulldogs right back down the field before capping off the drive with a 28-yard pass to fellow senior Ryan Morgan. Junior Joe Brady’s kick made it 14-14 with four minutes left in the second.
After a Dowagiac three and out, Vicksburg was threatening to score again when Ketelaar threw another interception. The Chieftains capitalized on the mistake with a touchdown with just four seconds left on the clock to make it 21-14 at the half.
On the first Bulldog drive of the third quarter, Brady connected with a field goal to cut the score to 21-17. But momentum seemed to be entirely on Dowagiac’s side as they scored again to give themselves a 10 point, 27-17 lead.
Going into the fourth quarter, things weren’t looking good. The Bulldogs suffered several key injuries and had to put in backups in senior Nick Dilly and sophomore Kyle Rose.
But both players stepped up their game. Rose helped senior DJ Bullock in making a key sack to stop a Chieftain drive at the start of the fourth. On the next drive, Ketelaar hit senior Adam Henderson wide open down the middle of the field for a touchdown that made it 27-24 and shifted momentum back to Vicksburg.
On the ensuing kickoff, Dowagiac was pinned deep. Senior Cole Mallery made two huge tackles to help kill the drive. On the ensuing punt, Bullock got into the backfield and blocked the punt at the goal line. The ball bounced right into junior Shane Earl’s hands and he cruised into the end zone to give Vicksburg a 31-27 lead that sent the home crowd into a frenzy of celebration.
On the next Vicksburg drive, Ketelaar continued his huge day on the ground. He capped off the drive himself with a 3-yard touchdown scamper to make it 38-27. He finished the evening with 219 rushing yards.
“I have total faith in him,” Marchese said. “He had faith in us and he wasn’t going to be denied.”
Marchese praised his players after the game for their group effort that made the comeback possible. “We owned the fourth quarter,” he said.
The Bulldogs next travel to Allegan to take on the Tigers.