Late Rally Sends Peshtigo Past Northern Elite 22-18
15 Second Half
Battling back from an 18-7 third quarter deficit Friday night, the Peshtigo Bulldogs (7-1, 6-0) claimed a share of the M-O Conference title with a thrilling 22-18 road victory over previously unbeaten Northern Elite (7-1, 5-1). Peshtigo struggled on both sides of the football for the entire first half and into the third quarter before coming alive down the stretch.
In a battle of conference leaders from the M-O and Northern Lakes circuits, the Bulldogs had to overcome all sorts of adversity...two blocked punts, the loss of fullback/linebacker Trevor Igl and that 11 point third quarter deficit. And they somehow survived!
Northern Elite is a very good team and controlled the tempo for most of the first half and into the second. They had us on our heels and fortunately we were only down 15-7 at the time, an emotional Peshtigo coach Sam Komp said. Our kids showed some great heart over the last 14-15 minutes. After the field goal we were down 18-7 and could have easily cashed it in, but didnt. The kids dug deep and played with plenty of emotion to pull it out. I couldnt be more proud of a group of young men.
Trailing 18-7 following a 21 yard field goal by Adam Parent, Peshtigo got back into the game when Jake Veness returned the ensuing pooch kickoff 64 yards for a touchdown with approximately 1:50 left in period three. On the conversion play, Dakota Keller hooked up with Jake Romenesko for an 18-15 deficit.
The pooch kick is something Northern Elite is very good at. We worked on it all week and set up a play to pop a run down the left side. Lo and behold, it worked as we put running back Veness on that side and he went the distance , Komp added.
Peshtigo continued its comeback early in the fourth quarter when Levi Sanborn picked off a Predator pass and returned it 13 yards to midfield. Looking to move ahead, Peshtigo saw Keller misfire on three straight passes before connecting on a crucial fourth down 34 yard completion to Romenesko at the 14 yard line. The play saw Romenesko race down field on a fly pattern and outjump the defender to make the catch. Keller ripped off 10 yards on first down while Steve Strojny tried pounding his way up the middle on second for no gain. Looking for more muscle, Komp and company brought in 225 senior Michael Vojcihoski, who blasted his way into the end zone from 4 yards out on the next play. Zach Neumann booted the extra point for a 22-18 edge with 7:50 remaining.
Romo is one of our playmakers and he came up with a great catch. Plus Neumann added the extra point, so Northern Elite was down by 4 points and had to score a touchdown to beat us. That is where our defense really dug deep and came up with a tremendous goal line stand, Komp remarked.
With all the momentum on its side, Peshtigo still had one final bullet to dodge. Forced to punt with 4:01 left on the clock, Peshtigo saw the boot by Romenesko get blocked and recovered by the Predators at the Bulldog 11 yard line.
It didnt look good for Peshtigo.
Northern Elite put the ball in the hands of senior quarterback 4 times, but couldnt penetrate the stingy Peshtigo defense. Swanson picked up one yard on first down then threw a pair of incomplete passes to Patrick Moreau on second and third down. Things went from bad to worse on fourth down as the scrambling Swanson was sacked for a 22 yard loss by Jordan Berth back to the 32 with 3:08 remaining.
With the Predators out of timeouts, Peshtigo needed one first down to run out the final 3-plus minutes and seal the win. A six play drive picked up a pair of first downs before Keller went into the victory formation and took a knee at the Bulldog 43.
There was a lot of emotion shown by both teams and we were very lucky to leave here with a win, Komp concluded.
Receiving the opening kickoff, the Predators sent an early message with a time consuming 16 play, 67 yard scoring drive. The running combination of Swanson and 205 pound fullback Jake Pedrotti along with three Peshtigo penalties kept the drive alive. Swanson carried 6 times for 19 yards while hitting Pedrotti twice on shovel passes for 16 yards to keep the Bulldog defense honest. A 12 yard fourth down pass to Moreau gave the Predators a new set of downs at the 10. Swanson hooked up with Trent Heath for 5 yards then scooted into the end zone at the 4:12 mark. Parent had his extra point kick get blocked for a 6-0 lead.
Down by a touchdown, Peshtigo saw its opening drive get wrecked by an Swanson interception at the Predator 15 and then lost the services of Igl three plays later to a broken arm with 11:10 remaining in period two.
Northern Elite continued its trek goalward and reached the Peshtigo 15 before being penalized for illegal participation. Forced back to the 42, the Predators ran into trouble when Swanson saw his pass get picked off by DJ Messenger at the 22.
The Bulldogs turned the turnover into points 8 plays later when Keller snuck in from a yard out. Messenger got things started with a 26 yard jaunt to the 48 while Romenesko hauled in a 12 yard third down pass to the Predator 43. Faced with a fourth and one, Peshtigo handed off to Steve Strojny, who broke through the line and bolted 30 yards to the 13. Three plays later Keller scored the touchdown at the 4:40 mark while Neumanns kick gave Peshtigo its first lead at 7-6.
Putting together a big defensive stop, the Bulldogs thought they had things rolling their way, that is until Swanson boomed a 51 yard punt which rolled dead at the 3. A holding penalty backed up Peshtigo to the one, before Keller was sacked in the end zone for a safety, putting the Predators on top 8-7 (1:59).
Getting the ball back at midfield on the free kick, the Predators strung together a six play scoring drive. The key play was a third down 24 yard run by Pedrotti to the Peshtigo 18 before Swanson landed in the end zone three plays later on a 3 yard burst with 0:16 left in the half. Parent split the uprights as Northern Elite went into halftime owning that 15-7 edge.
The struggles continued for the Peshtigo offense to open the second half as two drives totaled 40 yards. The first march moved from the Bulldog 30 to the Northern Elite 34 before running out of downs while drive number two gained 4 yards and ended on a blocked punt.
Starting at the Bulldog 44, Northern Elite drove down to the 4 yard line before settling for a 21 yard field goal by Parent and an 18-7 edge. The drive was highlighted by a short pass to Heath, who turned it into a 37 yard gain to the 9.
Down but certainly not out, the Bulldogs answered. Veness got the momentum back on Peshtigos side with that return for points on the ensuing kickoff before Vojcihoski scored the game winner with 7:50 left.
We played well for 3-plus quarters but couldnt finish. The last 8-12 minutes Peshtigo took us out of our game and we lost focus when things went bad, Predator coach Ben Laarman said. This was a hard fought game and a tough loss. Peshtigo just had more in the tank in the fourth quarter then we did. Maybe it was because of better numbers or conditioning.
Continuing the frustrated Predator coach added....this loss will hurt us in the playoff seeding as the Northern Lakes Conference doesnt get much respect around the state. If we could have went into the playoffs as an undefeated champion, we would have earned a real high seed. I am not sure what is going to happen now.
The Predators totaled 222 yards, 108 rushing and 114 passing. Playmaker Swanson was limited to 44 yards rushing on 27 carries and completed 10 of 18 passes with two interceptions.
Peshtigo didnt fare any better gaining 227 total yards....169 rushing and 58 passing. Messenger tallied 77 yards on 9 rushes while quarterback Keller completed just 5 of 17 throws for 58 yards and one interception.
The Bulldogs can clinch the outright M-O title Friday night with a home win over Suring in the conference finale. The last football championship for Peshtigo came in 2009.
Northern Elite heads to winless White Lake-Elcho in the Northern Lakes wrap up.
Both teams will find out their playoff opponents this weekend following the end of the regular season. The post-season will begin on Friday, October 25.
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