St. Joseph’s fielded a squad of just 20 players heading into its 2017 season opener against Bucktail.
When playing with less than a full deck like St Joseph’s was on Friday night, any kind of injury can be absolutely crippling for a team’s chances of winning. When that injury occurs to your do-it-all quarterback and linebacker, your chances of winning go down even more.
St. Joseph’s QB/LB Brendan Robinson left just 14 minutes into their season opener when his head collided with another player on defense. Bucktail RB Gage Sutliff scored the first play after Robinson left, on a 4-yard run, providing all points the Bucks would need in their 12-0 victory at Memorial Field.
The Wolves (0-1) tried re-shuffling their lineup several different times, using four different players at QB after Robinson left, but they couldn’t find the winning combination.
“When you practice for the last several weeks and you have one quarterback, you have to center a lot of things around that quarterback to run your offense through him,” St Joseph’s head coach Murray Fetzer said. “We had only 12 kids two weeks ago. Not knowing if we were going to have a season or not, the person at quarterback has to take all the snaps. There’s a position for everyone, so to speak.”
The Wolves managed two first downs and 26 yards on their opening series with Robinson at QB. After their do-it-all QB left the lineup, the Wolves mustered just five first downs and 38 yards in their final seven series.
St. Joseph’s first turned to Dylan Broderick at QB before giving Rieli Redman and Isaac Maas their shot at running the offense. The Wolves had their most success in the second half when they started direct snapping to running back Jared Stormer in the Wildcat formation.
The Wolves showed some signs of life when LB Zac Sechler fell on a fumble at the Bucktail 47 with just under nine minutes remaining in the third quarter. They made their deepest penetration into Bucks territory on the next play, on a Stormer Wildcat run for 11 yards.
“We did practice (Wild)Cat just in case Brendan went out, but we didn’t do it with Jared,” Fetzer said. “We put Jared in the Cat to see if we could create some holes because our line is young.”
The Wolves’ best scoring chance fizzled out after a couple negative runs and a 15-yard illegal block penalty pushed them back into their own territory again.
Even with their offensive struggles, the Wolves remained within a single score until just three minutes remaining in the game. That’s when Sutliff once again took matters into his own hands, rumbling off the left side and breaking four tackles on his way to a 37-yard TD run.
The Bucks looked poised to pull away for much of the first half, racking up 160 yards to just 18 yards for the Wolves in the first 24 minutes.
But the St. Joseph’s defense buckled down after the break, not allowing a first down for the first 18 minutes of the second half before Sutliff, RB Tanner Riggle, and RB Blake Cannon knocked the floodgates open on the game-sealing TD drive.
“We started hitting our gaps and containing the outside, and guys were tackling lower,” Fetzer said of their second-half defense. “In the beginning, we were tackling high. Those Bucktail running backs run well, so you’re going to bounce off of them.”
With their victory Friday night, the Bucks avenged a 33-6 loss to St. Joseph’s from last season.
The Wolves won’t have to wait long to see if they can even up the score, as these two teams will square off again on Sept. 22 in Renovo.
“I give credit to Bucktail, they played a tough game tonight,” Fetzer said. “We’ll see them in about three weeks again. We have to make adjustments. We have to tackle better and play better. We need to stay healthy on offense and make more plays.”