Grand Island running back Jack Dlugokinski in action.
The saying is: “Defense wins championships.”
Defense might not have won a title on Friday night, but it certainly helped the Grand Island Vikings seal their first win of the season by a narrow margin of 7-6 over the visiting Kenmore East Bulldogs. While offense was seldomly found, defense and turnovers kept both teams alive in the A2 division matchup.
Coming off a 36-8 loss to South Park, the Grand Island woes seemed as if they’d continue on the Vikings’ first punt of the night.
The Bulldogs’ Millard Ellis received the punt and carried it to the Vikings’ four-yard line. With great field position and some plays to work with, Kenmore East went backwards as a sack on first down made it second and goal from the 24-yard line. The Bulldogs would later turn it over on downs.
In the second quarter, Grand Island seemed destined for points as Jack Dlugokinski rushed for big yardage, but was stripped of the ball deep in East territory for a turnover.
The half eventually ended in a 0-0 tie.
Turnover woes haunted the Vikings to start the second half. On the team’s first possession, East recovered another GI fumble. The Bulldogs would take advantage of the turnover, but not without some flare for the dramatic.
After a Jamarion Robertson 23-yard run put the Bulldogs inside the 10-yard line, East continued to go backwards.
Backed up on the 23-yard line on fourth and goal, East quarterback Emery Lange found Dom Ferguson in the endzone for a touchdown. The extra point was no good but the Bulldogs took a 6-0 lead.
East wasn’t up for long though as the Vikings embarked on a five-play drive to regain control.
Ben Moskala completed a pass to Kris Krantz for seven yards, then ran it himself for sixteen yards on two plays. From there, Dlugokinski did the rest, running for twenty yards, then following a penalty, he rushed in for a touchdown. Sean Rustowicz’s extra point was good giving the Vikings a 7-6 lead.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter where Kenmore East made its comeback attempt.
After two rushes by Lange for 35 yards and two passes for fifteen yards, the Bulldogs were in business. On first and 10 in Vikings territory though, East couldn’t gain any ground. On fourth down, East attempted a 35-yard field goal but it was missed to the right.
Grand Island would ice the game on the next possession as Dlugokinski ran for seven tough yards with 2:17 left, which coach Dean Santorio called “the play of the game.” Then, on second and three, Blake Bielec ran for 54 yards to seal the deal. After one victory formation kneel, the Vikings squeaked by with their first victory of the season, 7-6.
Coming off a tough first week loss, Santorio said he was happy to get back on track and put a number in the W column, but gave credit to the Bulldogs on the battle.
“A win’s a win. I give them (Kenmore East) a ton of credit. They played extremely hard, which we expected,” Santorio said. “We knew they were a much-improved team, got a couple really good kids and, I think, more than ever, they’re more physical than they’ve been in a long, long time. And that’s a credit to them.”
Santorio added, “Our kids battled. We found a way to win. Whether it’s a one-point win or a 30-point win, it doesn’t matter. We’re glad the way we played in the second half to put that big drive together to take the lead.”
After the Bulldogs scored early in the second half on fourth and long, the Vikings had some hanging heads, but the team was able to persevere and rally. Santorio said he was ecstatic to see his team regain its confidence and score to take over.
“I’m proud of them, because, again, we’re very young. We can’t tell you how many guys are on the field and still learning. To battle back from 6-0, find a way to score, and I just like that attitude. We could’ve just quit there, and I saw some of the hanging of the heads right after they scored, but it didn’t last very long,” Santorio said.
The Vikings coach added the defense was huge, especially when Ellis returned the punt deep into Vikings territory and the Bulldogs came away with no points.
“That was a huge stop early in the game,” Santorio said. “If we would’ve given them some momentum like that – a team that is expecting to be better and win games – if we give them a score right away and early, that would’ve hurt us, but our kids did a great job there too.”
Offensively for the Vikings, Dlugokinski had 16 carries for 107 yards and a touchdown, while Bielec had four for 62 yards.
On defense, Kurtis Smith had eight tackles, two for a loss, while Josh Archer had three tackles for a loss.
The Vikings (1-1) travel to Sweet Home at 7 p.m. Friday, September 20th, while the Bulldogs (0-2) face South Park at home at the same time and date.
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