Sunbright comes from behind to defeat Wartburg by one

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Tigers improve to 3-2 with 8-7 win over Bulldogs

By Taylor Crombie

The Sunbright Tigers fought all game and executed when it mattered most to come back and steal an 8-7 win from the Wartburg Bulldogs.

“We played with them all night long,” Sunbright’s acting head coach Joe Kent said. “It was kind of a boxing match, we went 12 rounds and thank God we came out one point better on the scorecard.”

Wartburg capitalized on a Sunbright fumble and took a 7-0 lead just before halftime. Ethan Broadus recovered the ball for Wartburg at the Sunbright 30, but Josh Moore ran for a 13-yard loss on the first snap. Moore quickly made up for it though with a 33-yard pass to Noah Barnette, then ran the touchdown in himself. The Bulldogs opted to kick for the extra point and went up 7-0.

Sunbright came out more aggressively in the second half, but was unable to get any real momentum going until the end of the third quarter. The Tigers started to take the wind out of Wartburg’s sails when Sunbright’s Wesley Bohanon tackled Bailey Bunch for a huge 19-yard loss to bring up fourth-and-23 for the Bulldogs, then Alex Trent picked off a pass from Tyler Davis to start the long drive that eventually led to a touchdown.

Once Sunbright had the ball, Dillon Woodard picked up 40 yards on four carries and Bohanon caught a 7-yard pass from Thomas Hall to help put the Tigers two yards from the goal line as time expired in the third quarter. Woodard dashed into the end zone to put the Tigers on the board, and when the decision was made to go for two, Hall handed the ball off to Woodard again to give Sunbright the 8-7 lead.

“Honestly it was just one of those things like ‘this may be what wins the ball game or loses the ball game,’” Kent said. “I put it on my team, they came away and got the two points and got us the win.”

Wartburg wasn’t finished yet, though. Despite starting on their own 7, the Bulldogs kept hammering away and created a scoring opportunity while taking valuable time off of the clock for Sunbright. Jeremiah Davis completed passes both to Jesse Melhorn and Bunch to start the drive for Wartburg, then Boone Davidson tossed a 13-yard pass to Moore to pick up a first down. Moore picked up a total of 21 yards on back-to-back carries, then completed a short pass to Dakota Smith to bring up fourth-and-2 at the Sunbright 49. Moore was able to push through the Tiger defense to pick up another first down and keep the drive alive for Wartburg.

Saylor Jones and Smith moved the ball up five yards with a pair of short carries, then Moore dashed 9-yards for his third first down of the drive. After a series of short rushes by Moore and Keith Haynes, the Bulldogs were faced with fourth-and-1 at the Sunbright 22. The Tiger defense was finally able to stop Moore short of the first down and end Wartburg’s long drive with a minute remaining in the game.

“We thought we were going to be able to push it in there, eat the clock and not give them the opportunity to get the ball back,” Wartburg head coach Kevin Human said. “We probably should have called a timeout right there, but we thought we had the momentum going.”

The game might have gone differently for Wartburg had the Bulldogs not committed two penalties for 25 yards during their final drive.

“We’ve got to clean up penalties, there’s just no other way around that,” Human said. “This is something that’s plagued us for the last two games and it’s just something we’re going to have to work on in practice…until we clean our penalties up, it’s going to be hard for us to move the ball.”

Woodard was responsible for the vast majority of the Tigers’ offense with 91 yards on 16 carries. Levi Daniel took care of most of the rest with 54 yards on 12 carries.

Moore threw 87 of Wartburg’s 212 yards passing. He also picked up 34 yards rushing with the Bulldogs’ lone touchdown. Noah Barnette led the Bulldogs with 130 yards on seven receptions, averaging nearly 19 yards per catch.

The Tigers have won both of their games since Chris Shillings stepped down and Kent has taken over as the acting head coach, though Sunbright school officials note that no interim head coach has been named. This is the first time Sunbright has won two games in a row since 2014 when the Tigers made it to the second round of the Class A playoffs and finished 7-5.

“My boys have responded,” Kent said. They know the expectations. We practice hard, we play hard, we play physical. They’ve been craving discipline and order and that’s what we’ve been giving to them as a coaching staff.”

The Tigers are currently sitting in fourth place in the Class A Region 2 standings and have the opportunity to move up if they defeat Oakdale and Coalfield defeats Midway in Week 7.

While the Eagles have gone 2-3 so far with losses to regional opponents Coalfield and Midway, Kent acknowledged that Oakdale is not going to hand them the game.

“Oakdale is going to be another tough game,” he said. “They like to throw the ball all over the place like Wartburg does. We’re just going to have to get better on defense, continue running the football, running our option and play power football.”

Wartburg, meanwhile, is faced with a must-win situation against Cumberland Gap. While Panthers boast a 3-2 record, their two losses have been at the hands of regional opponents Meigs County and Oneida to put them at the bottom of the Class AA Region 2 standings. The Bulldogs have already lost 44-0 to the 5-1 Oneida Indians and will need to snag at least one victory between in remaining regional matchups against Cumberland Gap, Rockwood (3-3) and Meigs County (6-0).

“Cumberland Gap is the game that could be the key to a playoff run if we’re going to have one this year,” Human said. “I think we can play ball with them too. It’ll be another good game. I think if we come out and we play as hard as we did this week, I that we could pull one off up there.”

The Tigers will get to enjoy their first home game since their season opener, while the Bulldogs will have to make the long trip up to Cumberland Gap. Both games are set to start Friday night at 7:30 ET.