BY JOEL SENSENIG | MIRROR SPORTS — Minus the cold and wet weather, last Friday was a perfect night in many regards for the Anthony Wayne football team.
A 38-14 win over rival Springfield in the “Blue and White” game capped a perfect 10-0 regular season – the first in school history – and an outright Northern Lakes League title, its second straight league championship.
After a tightly played first quarter, the fourth-ranked Generals (10-0, 7-0 in the NLL) largely dominated the rest of the ballgame with a high-powered offense and stifling defense that limited scoring chances for the Blue Devils (8-2, 5-2).
AW junior running back Ezra Scott earned the most valuable player honor for the Blue and White game with a workmanlike outing, running the ball 36 times for 188 yards and two scores.
Generals senior quarterback Max Denman didn’t have his biggest game, but he did enough to balance out the offense (345 yards total) with 108 yards on 7-of-15 passes for two touchdowns and one interception.
Junior Mason Alberts led the team in receiving with three grabs for 55 yards.
AW coach Andy Brun-gard said this game was about more than the guys playing out on Schaller Field that night.
“We talked a lot about tonight not being about our team – it’s about every team that’s put on the pads and tried to accomplish that goal, so it was definitely a special moment,” he said.
“We had some alumni come back tonight. Andrew Donnal came into the locker room. Coach Craig Smith came in and talked to those guys. You could feel the energy in that room and how much it meant to the alumni even that we hadn’t been 10-0 before.”
Brungard said the team accomplished what it set out to do against the rival Blue Devils.
“We wanted to win the line of scrimmage and we wanted to put pressure on A.J. (Gucciardo, Springfield quarterback). I feel like we did a really good job of both of those tonight. Our No. 1 goal is to be able to run the ball, same goal as every week.”
Anthony Wayne started out strong, capping the game’s opening 10-play drive with a 12-yard pass from Denman to junior tight end Bryce Boyer (two catches, 26 yards) with 8:16 to play in the first quarter. Junior kicker Matt Paull’s extra-point kick made it 7-0.
On the Generals’ next possession, Springfield senior Ashton Helman intercepted a Denman pass, giving the visitors the ball at the AW 26-yard line.
The Blue Devils took advantage as junior Josiah Pressley capped a four-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown run. Senior Kyle Rhonehouse’s kick tied it up at 7-7 with 4:00 to play in the first.
Pressley was the game’s MVP for Springfield, finishing with 112 total yards and two scores.
The Generals opened the second quarter with the ball and a quick score as Scott ran it in from 2 yards out with 10:44 to play in the half. Paull’s kick made it 14-7 AW.
A couple of possessions later, Anthony Wayne’s defense made a play when senior linebacker Ben Allen caught a fumbled ball, giving the Generals possession on the Springfield 29.
Six plays later, Denman found senior receiver Max Bradfield in the end zone for the latter’s 16th touchdown catch of the season. Paull’s kick made it 21-7 with 2:37 left in the half.
The AW defense came up big again on the next Springfield possession, as senior linebacker Jacob Kirby intercepted a Gucciardo pass at the Blue Devils 9 and took it to pay dirt for the score. Paull’s kick made it 28-7 with 1:54 to play in the half.
“I knew it was going to be a slant, because they always put No. 10 (junior Devin Johnson) on the outside,” Kirby said. “I saw him come in, I bit and I just took it.”
Kirby said game preparation has been key to the Generals’ defensive success this season.
“We watch so much film that we can call plays before they even run them,” he said. “We have smart kids and we know what’s going to happen and can adjust during the game.”
Springfield was able to make things a bit more interesting on the next possession, as Pressley took a pass from Gucciardo, hurdled an AW defender and ran 65 yards down the sideline for the score. The point-after by Rhonehouse made it 28-14 with 1:21 to play in the half.
Anthony Wayne added to its lead on its first possession of the third, capping a nine-play drive with a 27-yard Paull field goal, making it 31-14 with 6:12 to play in the quarter. The big play was a 39-yard run from Scott, which put the Generals at the Springfield 37.
Already driving to start the fourth quarter, AW finished off the scoring with 11:15 to play in the game on a 3-yard run by Scott. Paull’s kick made it 38-14, where the score would remain until the clock struck all zeros, giving the Generals the perfect regular season.
After the game, Brungard was given a Gatorade bath for the second time in as many weeks – the first came at Napoleon when the Generals clinched at least a share of the NLL title.
“It’s an amazing feeling, and I’m forever blessed that this has happened to us,” Kirby said after the game.
Later that night, Anthony Wayne discovered its opponent for the opening home playoff game: Valley Forge (Parma Heights) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
The Patriots were 6-4 during the regular season, finishing third in the Great Lakes League with a 4-2 mark. They lost 14-13 to Bay last Friday.