BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — Well, that didn’t take long.
In his first game back on the home sidelines at Kazmaier Stadium in more than a decade, Evan Karchner led his alma mater back to the win column.
The Maumee football team jumped out to a quick lead and held off a fourth-quarter charge from Springfield to claim the season-opening 27-20 win, ending the Panthers’ 34-game losing streak.
“This is what we worked for,” Karchner said. “It feels good with all the hard work they put in, and they go win a game like this, a tough, gritty game. It does a lot for our confidence.”
Senior quarterback Chase Maulucci got the scoring started when he punched it in from 4 yards out on the Panthers’ first drive of the game. He added another score in the third quarter on a 7-yard run and finished with 61 yards on nine rushes, adding 100 passing yards on 14-of-19 throwing.
After going through his previous three seasons on the team without a win, Maulucci struggled to find the words to describe what he felt on Friday night.
“It’s an overwhelm of emotions,” he said. “I don’t know whether to cry or to scream. It just feels great for our team and the fans.”
While the win over the Blue Devils might only count as one in the win column, according to Maulucci and senior teammate Liam Murphy, it means so much more.
“We go into next week and we’re ready,” Maulucci said. “We have confidence. We’re going to practice even harder. We know how to do it now.”
Murphy added, “When you get a group of guys who believe in each other and gravitate to each other, we’re in any game. We are, truly. There were plenty of times tonight that we could have quit, but we didn’t.”
In addition to Maulucci, the stars of the night were junior running back Cody Wulf and a veteran offensive line that has improved tremendously under new line coaches David Perkins and Gus Schwieterman.
Wulf took advantage of the holes the line was opening in the Springfield defensive front to rush for 112 yards and one TD on 14 carries (8 yards per carry). He was also the Panthers’ leading receiver with 41 yards.
“He’s a special kid, but he also deserves it,” Maumee offensive coordinator Shane Kinnee said. “He shows up and does everything you ask. I don’t know if he’s missed a day in the offseason or during our in-season training. He makes our offense go.”
When he took the job, Kinnee looked at an offensive line with four seniors – Ramsey Quinn Jr., Jack Lake, Murphy and Josiah Millin, along with junior Espn Hurt – and knew he had something special.
“The biggest difference is culture, us preaching that our program is going to go through the offensive line,” Kinnee said. “We’re going to ride behind those guys. You could see that in critical moments throughout the game, we were running the ball.
“They wanted to win and they showed it tonight.”
Offensively, Maumee totaled 321 yards and 23 first downs.
Later in the game, the Panthers had to try and hold off Springfield without two of their better players when Wulf and Carson Graetz both went down with severe cramping. Karchner credited T.J. Rank, Keishon Midcalf and Will Kubicz for coming in and performing under pressure.
According to Maulucci, when Wulf and Graetz were working through their injuries, the next player on the depth chart had to come in and perform.
“We just had to have the next man up, they had to come in and play,” he said. “They got it done.
“Keishon has been working, he’s been getting reps, studying film. He just had to hit the hole (the line) created for him.”
The Panthers defense bent a few times, but they rarely broke. The Blue Devils gained 298 total yards and 187 on the ground, but they struggled to finish drives in the end zone.
After Maulucci put in his second TD of the game for a 21-6 lead, the Devils cut it to 21-13 in the fourth quarter. Midcalf scored on a 7-yard run to give Maumee a 27-13 lead, but Springfield made it interesting with another score.
In the end, though, it was too little, too late, and the Panthers were off to celebrate and ring the victory bell for the first time in nearly four years.
“Words cannot describe the feeling of running to that bell and ringing it,” Murphy said. “It’s way louder than I thought.
“Everybody in the community just gravitated here tonight. In the fourth quarter and we’re throwing our hands in the air, the student section just lost it, and then you look over, you see the parents – they’re standing up and losing it.
“People here want to watch Maumee football, they want to see Maumee football be successful. I think we are ready to provide that.”