Pioneers fall short
WHEELING -- One point.
Wayne's quest for a third consecutive Class AA football championship and a state record 37th consecutive victory fell one agonizing point short Friday night in a 14-13 loss to Bridgeport at snow-covered Wheeling Island Stadium.
"It is what it is," Wayne coach Tom Harmon said. "Bridgeport is a good team. A fine team. They played hard."
The turning point came seconds before halftime and in surprising fashion.
No. 1-rated Wayne (13-1) appeared headed to the locker room at halftime with a 13-6 lead. Quarterback Grant Ferguson, though, fumbled after a hard hit and Anthony Bonamico for Bridgeport recovered at the Pioneers 28 with 23 seconds left in the second quarter
Two plays later, Anthony Caldera scored on a 22-yard keeper and Bonamico ran for a 2-point conversion to give the Indians a stunning 14-13 lead.
Probably no one thought that would be the final. Then again, probably no one thought Wayne would make the uncharacteristic mistakes it did.
Harmon said rather than have Ferguson, who ran for 95 yards and threw for 61, take a knee and try to run out the clock, or risk a fumble on a handoff, he opted to have the usually sure-handed quarterback keep the ball.
"They had some timeouts, so if we tried to just take a knee they likely would have called timeout to try to get the ball back," Harmon said.
Ferguson wasn't the game's goat by any means. The Pioneers fumbled three times, losing two, threw an interception and committed six key penalties for 46 yards.
"Sometimes the bounces don't go your way," Harmon said.
Wayne threw a desperation pass chance to try to win it, but Ferguson's 31-yard heave on the game's final play bounced off the hands of leaping receiver Kurt Langdon-Arthur and an Indians' defender, sparking a Bridgeport celebration.
The Pioneers missed numerous opportunities in the second half, making the loss even more painful. After bobbling the second half kickoff and beginning at its own 7, Wayne drove to the Bridgeport 12, but was stopped on fourth-and-2.
The Pioneers moved to the Indians' 45 on their next possession, but a personal foul penalty stalled the drive and led to a punt. Three plays later, Caldera fumbled at the Bridgeport 36 in front of Wayne's Mason Hodge and the Wayne player accidentally kicked the ball back to the Indians' quarterback, who fell on it.
Another Wayne miscue followed on the Pioneers' next possession. Facing second-and-9 at the 50, Cody Stiltner ripped off a 12-yard gain, but Dante Bonamico, Anthony's brother, forced a fumble that his brother recovered.
Second-rated Bridgeport (13-1) gave the ball right back with 7:16 left in the game, but J.C. Maynard recovered a Caldera fumble at the Indians' 47.
Ferguson, though, was picked off by freshman Mckenzie Holmes on the next play. Holmes is the first freshman to start at Bridgeport since 1968. His interception was crushing, as it set up an Indians punt to the Wayne 10 with 4:59 left.
"I don't know what to say," said Hodge, who ran for 109 yards on 20 carries. "One turnover too many."
Wayne moved to the Bridgeport 22 after a Ferguson 23-yard scramble with 38 seconds left, but he was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the ensuing play, setting up the game's final play.
"We wouldn't have gotten close to being here without Grant," Harmon said. "Sometimes you just get the short end of the stick."
Harmon indicated he would like to have the final drive back.
"We tried to set something up the entire drive," Harmon said. "With the clock running down and no timeouts, sometimes you get helter skelter."
Wayne had converted a Bridgeport fumble into points to take an early 7-0 lead. Bonamico fumbled an errant pitch at the Pioneers 29 and Tucker Watts recovered.
The Pioneers then put together a 13-play, 70-yard drive capped by Hodge's 1-yard plunge. Drew Stamper's extra point gave the Pioneers a 7-0 lead with 1:10 left in the first quarter. The Pioneers converted three third down situations to keep the drive alive.
Bridgeport answered quickly, moving 68 yards in seven plays with Caldera scoring on a 39-yard keeper at 9:49 of the second quarter. Brennan Duarte, though, hooked the extra point attempt wide left and the Pioneers led 7-6.
Wayne responded with another touchdown drive, a 65-yard march that ended with Ferguson hitting Arthur with a 34-yard TD pass. Stamper's kick, however, sailed wide left to give the Pioneers a 13-7 lead.
The snow and wind didn't hold down the offenses in the first half, as Wayne gained 159 yards, including 72 rushing by Hodge. Bridgeport gained 147 yards, 83 coming from Caldera's running. Bridgeport gained just 34 yards in the second half, compared to Wayne's 161, but mistakes negated the advantage.
"People can look back and say it was this or that," Harmon said. "We're not going to do that. Our kids gave a supreme effort."
BRIDGEPORT 0 14 0 0 -- 14
WAYNE 7 6 0 0 -- 13
W -- Hodge 1 run ( Stamper kick)
B -- Caldera 39 run (kick failed)
W -- Arthur 34 pass from Ferguson (kick failed)
B -- Caldera 22 run (A. Bonamico run)
First downs 10 20
Rushes-yards 37-181 54-259
Passes 1-2-0 5-9-1
Passing yards 11 61
Total yards 192 320
Fumbles-lost 4-2 3-2
Penalties-yards 6-49 6-46
Punts 4-32.8 1-29
RUSHING -- Bridgeport: Caldera 17-109, A. Bonamico 17-64, D. Bonamico 3-8. Wayne: Hodge 20-109, Ferguson 16-95, Stiltner 10-40, Spurlock 6-11, Perry 2-4.
PASSING -- Bridgeport: A. Bonamico 0-1-0; Caldera 1-1-0, 11 yards. Wayne: Ferguson 5-9-1, 61 yards.
RECEIVING -- Bridgeport: A. Bonamico 1-11. Wayne: Stiltner 3-24, Arthur 1-34, Hodge 1-3.