By Travis Smola
The scoreboard said 42-7 in Vicksburg’s first-round playoff loss to the Paw Paw Redskins, but the game was closer than the score indicated.
The Bulldogs moved the ball but stalled on their first two drives on costly interceptions thrown by quarterback Jacob Conklin. Paw Paw took advantage of the turnovers and scored on long runs on both drives to make it 14-0 early.
“In a playoff game, let alone a regular season game, turnovers are big. You’ve got to capitalize. One was at the five-yard line,” Head Coach Tom Marchese said. “You can’t make mistakes in a playoff game.”
On the next drive, Vicksburg defense stepped up and forced a turnover on downs. But they couldn’t convert that play into points. On Paw Paw’s next drive, they scored again on a 37-yard run to make it 21-0. “It looked bad in the scores the first half, but really they had three long runs,” Marchese said. “We were making them earn it. They just caught a crease on those three plays.”
The Bulldogs continued to stymie the Redskins on shorter runs. But they couldn’t stop the big play. Just before halftime, Paw Paw had a huge 72-yard run to make the score 28-0. After the half, the defense stepped up and the third quarter was largely a stalemate.
Finally, late in the third, Conklin hit Toby Stock for a 35-yard touchdown pass off a play-action. The extra point made it 28-7.
“I’m proud of the kids. They fought until the end and made some plays at the end there,” Marchese said.
In the fourth quarter, Paw Paw scored two more times to end the game 42-7. Vicksburg had been off to a hot start in 2019, winning its first three games and starting the season 5-1. But the Bulldogs suffered a plethora of injuries down the stretch, especially to the running game with injuries to players like Jacob Baird, Tim Axtell and Jayce Todd causing trouble for the run game.
“Injuries didn’t help, not at all,” Marchese said. However, he said he was proud of the seniors especially for battling back to the playoffs after they missed out last season. The Bulldogs are going to lose key players this year, most notably offensive and defensive lineman Kyle Rose, who wants to play for the Air Force Academy next year.
“He’s been a mainstay on our offensive line for the last three years,” Marchese said. He noted he saw a lot of maturity and leadership emerge from Rose in the last year.
“I was proud of him this year for being a vocal leader, which he really hasn’t done before,” Marchese said. “I put it on him to start talking more and he did an awesome job of it.” Overall, the Bulldogs will graduate 16 seniors.
Another big loss will be the receiving duo of Chase Myers and Lucas Hatridge, who became two of Conklin’s favorite targets this year.
“I thought we probably had the best two receivers in the league, Toby and Chase; they made plays when they were there,” Marchese said. “There’s a lot of good personalities out of that senior group.”