For one half of its season-opening game versus Dalton, Garaway’s defense looked like it had no inkling how to stop a running attack.
However, for the final 24 minutes, the Pirates defense seemed to wear the Bulldogs down, and turned a complete 180-degree turn in powering to a 47-28 victory at home on The Hill in Sugarcreek Friday, August 26.
The win was big in many ways, including the showcasing of the powerful Pirates offense, the turnaround from the Garaway defense giving up 28 first half points and then limiting the Bulldogs to none in the second half, and perhaps most of all, it marked the 100 career victory for head coach Jason Wallick.
For a while, it didn’t look like that last one would come to fruition, considering the way Dalton was carving up the Garaway defense.
Standout Bulldogs running back Cody Fitzwater looked like an All-Ohioan early on, racing in from 20 yards out to put Dalton up 7-0, then after a Garaway stop, Fitzwater leaped over the pile from a yard out to make it 14-0, stunning the Garaway faithful.
Garaway finally worked its way down the field on a series of short passes, two coming at key times to Ty Hamsher. Quarterback R.J. Jacobs eventually plunged in from a yard out to make it 14-7.
Garaway then got a stop, and Jacobs found Quinn Miller in the left corner to knot things up at 14.
Dalton’s response was to march down the field, stuffing the ball right through the heart of Garaway’s defense, with Spencer Horst eventually pounding in from one yard out to make it 21-14.
Now defense seemed like it was out the window, and Garaway took seven plays to tie it when Jacobs found Carson Troyer down the middle of the field for a 28-yard scoring strike.
At that point, Dalton had just over one minute and had to go 70 yards to find the end zone. In a game that appeared as though the last team to have the ball would win, the Bulldogs put forth a monumental effort to march down the field to the Garaway 14 yard line, where Spencer Horst grabbed a screen pass, side-stepped a pair of Garaway defenders and tip-toed down the sideline and into the end zone with 2.2 seconds to play in the half.
“That was an extremely big score for us, and I felt good about coming out ofthe4 half with some momentum,” said Dalton head coach Broc Dial.
As big as that drive was for Dalton, so too was the opening drive of the second half for Garaway. Jacobs found Miller across the middle on a deep, ball, then scampered 18 yards to the one, where he plunged in to tie the score at 28.
“That score they put up was huge, but for us to come out in the second half like we did showed a lot of character from our kids,” said Wallick. “We’ve got 19 wonderful seniors with a lot of experience, and we made some adjustments at the half and they believed in them, and most importantly they executed those adjustments.”
At that point, Garaway began to flex its muscles on defense, and Dalton’s drive stalled out at mid-field.
Jacobs quickly found Troyer again, this time on a 47-yard scoring strike on a streak pass down the middle of the field to put Garaway up 34-28. But Garaway missed the extra point, giving the Bulldogs temporary life. It didn’t last long, as Dalton’s drive again went awry at midfield. Hamsher made a key leaping grab on third and long, and then Jacobs scrambled around and through the Dalton defense, putting them ahead 41-28.
“Our courage was there,” said Jacobs. “We played together as a team, we talked half-time and ironed some things out, and once we figured out some play calls we were fine. Our offense was clicking all night.”
A lengthy Dalton drive ensued, but again the Pirates’ defense stiffened and held on fourth down, and Dalton’s two-way players were wearing down. Two long passes to Miller led the Pirates quickly to the Dalton 11 yard line, where Jacobs found Hamsher for a score to make it 47-28.
From there, Garaway’s defense continued to dominate, marking a monumental turnaround from the first half when the Bulldogs ran at will.
“We knew we would play hard and play well in the first half, it was just a matter of holding up physically in the second half,” said Dial, referring to his multitude of players going both ways on a muggy and fairly hot evening. “But that is going to be the case for us all year, and it is going to be a lot between the ears for us. We have to learn how to play hard for 48 minutes. I liked the first half, didn’t care much for our effort in the second half, and now we have to get better for next week.”
As for being part of the team that helped Coach Wallick earn win number 100, Jacobs said all the team wanted to get that one for their coach.
Wallick pushed aside all of the post-game accolades that came his way during a special presentation that saw him and his family share an emotional moment on the field as he was honored.
“You know, 10 or 15 years down the road I will probably look at this and realize how important it was, but for tonight, I am thrilled with the way this team responded to adversity and showed a lot of courage and maturity when they were challenged,” said Wallick. “I am proud of this team and especially the leadership our seniors have shown.”