MONROEVILLE – New year. New season. Almost – but not quite – the same old deja view for the New Haven Bulldogs.
Twelve months after dropping a stem-to-stern 40-point hammering on the Heritage Patriots, the Patriots hung tough until the clock ran dry this time around. But in the end, on a sweat-blurred Friday night, the Bulldogs finally saw their way clear, scoring two touchdowns in a meat-grinding third quarter and then saving the day with a crucial late drive to stomp off with a 31-21 victory.
We had our chances to put them away – we had more than our chances to put them away – but we just didn’t get it done, New Haven coach Jim Rowland said. To their credit, they played hard, but we made a season’s worth of mistakes in one game.
You know, it’s only Week 1, so we’ve got a lot of room to improve. But at least we got out with the W.’
The Bulldogs led by 16 with a quarter to play, but a 9-yard run by Heritage quarterback Brandon Dossen and Jailon Parrish’s 42-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter turned it back into a game again.
Enter sophomore back Nishawn Jones and the Bulldogs’ running game.
Jones, who gashed the Patriots for 187 yards on 30 carries, finished off a 16-play, 75-yard drive by circling right end for 4 yards on fourth down with 1:49 to play for the touchdown that put it away. The Bulldogs threw one pass on the drive, which chewed up nearly seven minutes and ripped the momentum back from the Patriots.
We just had to dig deep and play with our hearts, quarterback Vance Shearer said. Play New Haven football. That’s what we did on that last drive.
To Rowland’s relief and satisfaction.
Yeah, I don’t know how long that drive was, but it was an awfully long drive, he said. The kids stuck with it. We obviously got in a run situation; we were trying to run some time off the clock. They knew we were running, but we were able to get in the end zone, and that speaks volumes about our offensive line and running backs.
We challenged our kids at halftime. We felt like we were in better condition and shape than they were, and we were just going to pound it and try to wear them down. But they just kept coming back. We just never really got a chance to pull away.
Early on, New Haven began drives at the Heritage 40, 37, 49 and 21 after Dossen coughed up the football, a piece of good fortune that went a long way toward an early 10-0 lead.
The Bulldogs got two of those 10 points when a long snap sailed over the head of Heritage punter Taylor Melcher and through the end zone on the Patriots’ second possession. They added eight on the ensuing possession, Jones busting one 11 yards over the left side at the 4:30 mark of the first.
The Patriots finally scored with 57 seconds left in the half. After managing just one first down and 16 yards in the game’s first 21-plus minutes, they finally stirred to life, going 65 yards in six plays with Austin Conrad getting the last 28 on a catch-and-run. with 57 seconds showing.
When Justyn Hart plowed in for the two-point conversion, it was a 10-8 game at the break.