With a week remaining before the beginning of the regular season, Defiance got its last chance to test its abilities against an opposing squad as the Bulldogs welcomed in defending Division VII state champion McComb to Fred J. Brown Stadium on Meet the Bulldogs Night on Thursday.
With multiple offensive formations ranging from a full-house backfield with three running backs to a five-wide receiver formation, plus a talent and speed-laden roster, the Panthers provided a solid test for Defiance ahead of the 97th installation of the River Rivalry against Napoleon on Thursday at Defiance.
“We know what we’re getting when McComb comes over here,” said Defiance head coach Kevin Kline, whose Bulldogs were outscored three touchdowns to two in the 10-play portion before coming up just short in the down-and-distance portion, 14-13. “We don’t care what size school it is, these guys can play and they’ve got some kids that can get after you.
“We got out of it healthy. We think we got a lot of kids reps that are going to be Friday night kids and that’s what we wanted to see. You want to see how they perform against a state-class team.”
Offensively, a mix of bruising inside runs with fullback Tyrel Goings and wingbacks Jackson Rey, Drew Kellermyer and play action passes from QB Aaron Cruz to Caden Kline and Romero Pearson, the Bulldog offense seemed to find sparks at times against a rangy Panther defense.
“I think they did a pretty decent job,” noted Kline. “A big place for me was missed tackles and offensively, we’re just a couple of missed assignments here and there but we need to start getting that stuff hammered out.”
McComb scored first in the 10-play portion on a 37-yard touchdown pass, with a broken tackle at the Defiance 10 allowing the receiver to score. Defiance answered with a 23-yard pass from Cruz to Kline, followed by a 25-yard scamper from Kline on a counter play that set up a reverse counter from Kellermyer from five yards out to knot the score.
On the next play, Cruz found Goings for a 70-yard touchdown on play-action that saw the 6-4, 230-pound senior rumble down the right sideline.
McComb answered with a 17-yard touchdown pass of their own on the seventh play of their possession before hitting a 70-yard scoring strike down the sideline.
In the down-and-distance portion of the scrimmage, Defiance forced a three-and-out on its first defensive possession and forced a coffin corner punt that went out at the McComb eight.
The Panthers, 14-1 last year en route to a state crown, took the ball 92 yards to paydirt, aided by a 31-yard tunnel screen that set up a 23-yard play-action touchdown pass to put McComb up 7-0.
Both teams punted on their remaining possessions of the first 12-minute session but the next quarter set the stage for some offensive heroics for the Bulldogs.
Kline sprinted 55 yards downfield on a sweep play and tied things up at 6-6 before the DHS defense tightened up for a three-and-out. After Defiance ran three plays and punted, the Bulldog defense again came up big with a pair of sacks to force a punt.
On the next possession, Cruz found Kline wide open downfield for a 58-yard touchdown to put Defiance up 13-7. Unfortunately, a quarterback scramble by the Panthers broke contain and escaped for a 70-yard score. Defiance’s ensuing drive ended via interception at the McComb eight but all in all, the night proved to be productive for Kline’s squad.
“I think it’s things that are fixable,” said the DHS mentor. “The film will tell us more, but just my gut instinct is, okay, we just missed this block or we’re getting too deep on this pull or something. McComb forces you to do some things different offensively. That’s our scrimmages, though. I think they’ve prepared us in the past and I think they will again for that first game of the year.”
With the scrimmage slate complete and just five days of practice remaining before the season debut against Napoleon, tweaks and fixes are still in store ahead of the historic rivalry clash.
“We had a couple penalties tonight that I thought were kind of silly,” added Kline. I think every offense is always looking for more and the defense, we’re looking for consistency. You look at the power teams in our league, they’re very consistent night in and night out. We want to compete towards the top of our league and we want to win and have a chance to get in the playoffs.”