Both defenses stiffened and it became clear that the second half was going to come down to whose – if anybody’s – offense was going to score.
The Class 2A No. 6-ranked Harding Hawks needed a touchdown to take the lead. Bishop Dwenger wanted to score because as evidenced by Week 1, if you leave the Hawks hanging around late in a game, it’ll be your undoing.
Finally, after nearly 23 minutes of scoreless second-half football Friday night at Fred Zollner Stadium, it was the Class 4A No. 5-ranked Saints who got a 1-yard touchdown run from quarterback Trevor Yerrick to put away the Hawks, 24-12.
“We played a lot harder in the second half on defense,” Bishop Dwenger coach Chris Svarczkopf said. “We dug a little deeper and knew what we had to do.”
After stifling Harding on two second-half drives, including one midway through the fourth quarter, the Saints put together a game-clinching drive late in the fourth quarter.
Taking over at its own 42-yard line after the Hawks failed to convert on a fake punt on fourth and 23, Bishop Dwenger marched to its opponent’s 33-yard line before its drive nearly stalled out.
Facing a fourth and 11, Yerrick – aided by good blocking from his line – fired an 18-yard strike to his receiver Tyler Eifert.
Five plays and 15 yards later, Yerrick scored on a keeper with 1:04 remaining.
“Yerrick did a really good job of running the offense tonight,” Svarczkopf said.
The Saints racked up 233 rushing yards from the triple-option formation. Yerrick was tasked with timing his pitches and flips to the running backs and also tucking the ball away and running with it. He finished with 50 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our game plan wasn’t to come out passing,” Eifert said. “We wanted to run the ball and try to wear them down.”
The Hawks hung tough but couldn’t hold on that final drive. The Saints’ defense, however, did stonewall Harding’s scoring efforts.
The Hawks put together two drives deep into Bishop Dwenger territory that went for naught.
Early in the third quarter, the Hawks had a third-and-two situation from the Saints’ 26-yard line, but running back Roderick Smith was stuffed for a two-yard loss and a pressured Darious Griffin’s fourth-down pass failed.
Then early in the fourth quarter, Smith galloped for 41 of his 202 yards to get the Hawks to the Saints’ 29-yard line. If it hadn’t been for Eifert, the free safety, angling across the field and nudging Smith out of bounds, the running back likely would have scored to give Harding an 18-17 lead.
“I was just thinking, ‘If I let him score, he just outran me and embarrassed me,’ and I didn’t want to let that happen,” Eifert said.
A nine-yard illegal use of the hands penalty put the Hawks in second and 17, forcing them to throw.
Griffin’s pass went incomplete and then he was smashed for a six-yard loss on a sack by a bullrushing Saints defensive line.
Again, a Harding drive stalled out deep in Bishop Dwenger territory.
“If you’re going to bend, just don’t break,” Eifert said. “They had a lot of long runs, but we stepped up and stayed strong when we had to.”
Given an opportunity to put the opponent away after the failed fake punt, the Saints stuck with their triple-option game plan and pounded the Hawks for that final drive.
“We knew they were going to run a lot,” Harding coach Sherwood Haydock said. “That’s tough to defend, any time. Our defense held on in a couple situations, but we had six or seven missed tackles for lost yardage.”
The second half was a stark contrast from the first half, which featured lots of scoring in a short amount of time.
Bishop Dwenger marched down the field in the opening three minutes, using just eight plays – all rushing – to go 70 yards. Yerrick capped the drive with a one-yard keeper.
Harding’s Austin Coleman muffed a punt return at his own 10-yard line and the Saints capitalized by scoring on the next play, a 10-yard run from running back Robby Kimes. He finished with a team-high 115 yards.
The Hawks responded with a 13-yard score from Smith and then a 62-yard pass reception by Coleman.
They failed to score on both two-point conversions.
The Saints scored on a 34-yard field goal as the first half ended, set up by Eifert’s 18-yard catch.