Knights overcome Battle Creek defensive effort
The gridiron rivalry between Norfolk Catholic and Battle Creek dates back to the 1980s but, with considerable district ramifications in Class C2 on the line, the only contest that mattered to the 2018 squads was played on the Veterans Memorial Field turf Friday night.
The game, a 21-7 victory by the 6-1 and No. 2-ranked Knights, required a win in the turnover battle and some solid goalline defense to overcome an outstanding defensive effort by the Braves--now 4-3 on the season.
“We knew this would be a good team; I told our kids all week this would be a 48-minute game,” Norfolk Catholic coach Jeff Bellar said.
Battle Creek allowed the Knights just 26 first-half rushing yards, and a total of 64 net yards on the ground in the game--limiting Norfolk Catholic’s Dylan Kautz to 54 yards on 23 carries and Evan Smith to 10 yards on nine tries.
“We knew that Dylan is one of their main guys, and the Smith kid; we just did a good job--I can’t say enough good things about the defensive plan our coaching staff put together,” Carlson said. “It was a great game plan, and our kids went out and executed it. Our kids really played hard tonight; we did the things we needed to to win. We just couldn’t get those points when we needed them.”
A Battle Creek fumble late in the first quarter, recovered by the Knights’ Wyatt Smydra on the Battle Creek 21-yard line, set up the first of three touchdown passes by Norfolk Catholic sophomore Cayden Cunningham--and the first of two scoring receptions by Ryan Vetter, who took this one into the end zone on third-and-goal from the five for a 7-0 Knights lead.
The Braves’ defense prevented further damage following another Battle Creek fumble at its own 41 when defensive standout Dylan Mettler intercepted the first throw in a return to action from an opening-game injury by Norfolk Catholic’s Nate Brungardt.
In all, Battle Creek two lost fumbles and an interception, and all were costly, but the Braves still had chances offensively.
Three times Battle Creek moved the ball inside the Norfolk Catholic 10-yard line, and the Braves came up empty on each occasion--the first when defensive ends Joe Teten and Ethan Piper hurried quarterback Ty Heimes into an incompletion on 4th-and-goal from the eight, the second time when Teten first batted, then intercepted a Heimes screen pass on fourth-and-goal from the seven and returned it 36 yards up the sideline, hurdling a tackle attempt by Heimes en route, and the third time Battle Creek turned the ball over on downs at the Knights’ seven.
The defensive stops maintained Norfolk Catholic’s 7-0 halftime advantage before a 43-yard punt return early in the third quarter by Evan Smith to the Battle Creek nine provided the Knights with a short field scoring opportunity. Cunningham, who finished the night completing 5-of-8 passes for 113 yards, found Vetter for a 10-yard touchdown, Norfolk Catholic led 14-0.
Following Battle Creek’s third empty trip into scoring position, the Knights also added a quick-hitting 69-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham to Jack Marsden with just over eight minutes left to play to lead 21-0.
With the help of a 54-yard screen pass from Heimes to Mettler, Battle Creek created the final 21-7 score on a 19-yard touchdown run by Reece Bode with under six minutes remaining in the game, but for the Braves it was too little and too late, and the wasted opportunities may have created some sleepless nights for Battle Creek coach Andrew Carlson.
“I think we’re going to look back on this game, and it’s going to haunt us,” Carlson said. “We stubbed our toe in the red zone; we were on the seven two different times, and the eight one other time, and we didn’t do anything with it. That’s the thing you can’t do when you play good teams; you’ve got to find ways to put points on the board.”
Bellar said he hopes that the game will provide some areas of improvement for the Knights offensively.
“I need to learn from the film; we maybe got out-manuevered in some areas when they were slanting and bringing their safeties up so you end up blocking a nine-man front,” Bellar said. “They took a lot of chances defensively, and I probably need to tell myself to throw the football a little more. We’ve got to continue to work on some things we do offensively, and I’ve got to get a little better in those areas.”“We had some plays that we didn’t use, some playaction stuff, and that was a bad idea on my part not to use them,” he said. “They did a great job at the point of attack and really kept us off-balance; I think I need to give them credit and try to learn from the film on what we need to work on.”
Battle Creek (4-3) 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Norfolk Catholic (6-1) 7 0 7 7 -- 21
NC: Ryan Vetter 5 pass from Cayden Cunningham (Riley Carlson kick), 1:43.
NC: Vetter 10 pass from Cunningham (Carlson kick), 7:29.
NC: Jack Marsden 69 pass from Cunningham (Carlson kick), 8:28.
BC: Reece Bode 19 run (Mason Mink kick), 5:57.