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Wilson Starts Anew As Second Half Surge Pushes Bulldogs Past Hempfield

Written by: on Saturday, October 28th, 2017. Follow Andy Herr on Twitter.

 

The last time that the Wilson Bulldogs traveled to Landisville to take on the Hempfield Black Knights, history was on the line. The type of history that can solidify a dynasty. Back on the evening of October 9th 2015, the Bulldogs were on the verge of immortality. The gang from West Lawn entered the contest tied with Manheim Central for the most consecutive wins in Lancaster Lebanon League play with 52. Although the Black Knights gave Wilson everything they could handle that night, Wilson was able to prevail, preserving their winning streak for all time. But they weren’t done however. Wilson was far from satisfied with a mere 53 in a row.

Fast forward to 2017 and history was on the line yet again for the Wilson Bulldogs. Although for the first time since the fall of 2007, it would be a new chapter in their history that Wilson would be trying to write upon their return trip to Landisville. The start of a new winning streak.

In a cruel twist of fate for those that West Lawn home, “The Streak,” a name so fittingly simple much in the way it mirrored the very dominance behind it, was put to an end last week by the Manheim Township Blue Streaks. Yes that’s correct, the Streaks ended The Streak. And just like that, after 68 games, the clock had finally struck midnight on the Bulldogs’ Section 1 winning streak.

And although everyone knew that this mind-boggling continuation of dominance could not simply last forever, although it nearly felt that way, the first game back after the streak was sure to be one filled with intrigue. After all, this was unchartered waters for the current cast of Bulldogs who were just entering the early grades of elementary school the last time their former brethren dropped an LL Section 1 contest.

If ever the saying of having one loss possibly turn into two would come to fruition, it was Wilson’s Friday night excursion to Hempfield. “You never know,” Wilson head coach Doug Dahms said when eluding to how his squad might take last week’s loss. “There was some ‘downism,’” Dahms went on to add regarding Bulldogs’ sentiment toward the likelihood of Manheim Township going on to finish the year as Lancaster Lebanon League Section 1 champs. All the same, Wilson still had a lot left to play for the remainder of this season which Coach Dahms explained to his band of Bulldogs this week on the practice field. “We just said now you have a different chance to win a different championship. One a little bit bigger, but you have to take care of business.”

Make no mistake about it, put all the psychology on the shelf. This game was sure to be a true test regardless. Arguably one of the most intriguing and talented teams in Lancaster Lebanon League Section 1 entering this year, the Hempfield Black Knights have surely lived up to the billing and then some. After a 2-1 start to the season, the Black Knights were upended by their archrivals Manheim Township by a jaw-dropping 56-0 score.

Since then however, Hempfield has only looked out the windshield and has not even bothered glancing in the rearview mirror. After the Township loss, Hempfield rattled off four straight victories, including scoring 116 points in their last two outings combined. With a hot team and a Wilson team having to respond from rare October adversity, a Black Knight victory seemed ripe for the taking. At the end of the night however, the possibility of Wilson dropping two straight proved to be nothing more than forbidden fruit.

Although this would be Wilson’s night, it certainly did not appear that way. Especially early on. Hempfield came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. After Zeke Rodriguez returned the opening kick out to the 25 yard line, the Black Knight offense appeared to be in tip-top shape. After a successful opening drive that saw the Hempfield offensive troops get as deep as the Wilson 7 yard line, they were ultimately turned away thanks to a key pass breakup defensively by Trevor Hatlee on 3rd & 4 which led to a 24 yard field goal booted through the uprights by Curtis Johnson which put Hempfield in front 3-0. A lead that Hempfield was able to enjoy for the remainder of the opening quarter.

Once the second quarter began, Wilson began to churn out the yards and rely on their safety blanket in the backfield known as Iggy Reynoso. With Reynoso pounding out the yards and lowering the boom on would-be tacklers along the way, Wilson had successfully moved the ball out to midfield following a magnificent coffin-corner punt by Hempfield’s Evan Pritchard that forced the Dawgs to set up shop at their own 2 yard line.

Unfortunately for Wilson, all the good vibes that were created off this drive were quickly wiped away by an inopportune fumble that bounded it’s way down the field until Hempfield’s Darien Ressler was able to pounce on it giving Hempfield possession at their own 29 yard line.

With a renewed sense of energy following the turnover, Hempfield’s offense was on the attack once again. Faced with a 3rd & 7 from their own 32 yard line, senior quarterback Mark Himmelsbach hooked up with star receiver and future Temple Owl David Martin-Robinson for a big 33 yard pickup across the middle all the down to the Wilson 35 yard line. Hempfield stuck with the gameplan of giving the rock to Martin-Robinson and he certainly did not disappoint as the Black Knight senior wideout ran the jet sweep all the way down to the Bulldog 17 yard line with Hempfield eager to put an even bigger dent in the scoreboard. Once again however, the Wilson defense was able to rise up and keep Hempfield out of the endzone, although this time they did even better.

Faced with a 4th & 2 from the Bulldog 9 yard line, Hempfield gave the rock to Martin-Robinson once more and although he was able to break free from the initial first few tackles, he was ultimately corralled just shy of the yard to gain as the Bulldog D had successfully held on downs.

Ignited by their defense as well, it was Wilson’s turn to move the ball down the field. Aided by a defensive pass interference call earlier on the drive on a 3rd down play, Wilson was to move across the midfield stripe after a Connor Uhrig pass to Angel Martinez put the Bulldogs on the Hempfield side of the field at the 42 yard line.

For all the momentum that was generated on this series as well, David Martin-Robinson showed off his prowess on the defensive side of the football this time by rising up and climbing the ladder to come down with the interception just before the half with the Black Knights seemingly in command despite leading by just the slim 3-0 advantage.

One Wilson team went into the locker room at the intermission and a different Bulldog team emerged, ready for the second half. It didn’t take long to see hard evidence of that either as Wilson went right down the field on their opening possession once action resumed. Aided by a magnificent 44 yard pass from senior quarterback Connor Uhrig that was placed perfectly over the shoulder to fellow senior Chris Roberson, the Bulldogs suddenly found themselves down to the Hempfield 40 yard line.

From that point on, the Hempfield defense was fed a steady diet of Iggy Reynoso. With Reynoso consistently carrying the mail for his offensive mates, the Bulldogs were able to get down inside the Hempfield 5 yard line. Faced with a 4th & Goal with the ball resting on the Hempfield 2 yard line, the Wilson offense was rewarded with a fresh set of downs to work after Hempfield jumped offsides on a hard count. From there, Iggy Reynoso did the honors as his 1 yard touchdown run gave Wilson their first lead of the game at 7-3 with 7:56 to go in the third.

Undaunted, Hempfield had an answer of their own. Ignited by a kickoff return by Zeke Rodriguez to Black Knight 40 yard line, Hempfield went back to into the lab to work. Although the Black Knights would indeed have a rebuttal on this drive, it was not without it’s fair share of difficulties. The early portion of the drive was kept alive by two key third down conversions, the first that came with Himmelsbach breaking out the pocket on a 3rd & 8 to get past the sticks, and the other by yet another sensational climb the ladder type catch by Martin-Robinson on a 3rd & 10 to put Hempfield on the Wilson 34 yard line.

After his catch, Martin-Robinson then showed off his wheels on the ground as the senior do-everything player for Hempfield busted off a long gainer down to the Bulldog 19 yard line. Faced with yet another third down, this one of the 3rd & 1 variety from the 10 yard line, senior running back Stephen Wenzel was able to break a few tackles and get all the way down to the Wilson 4. Just for good measure, Hempfield made it a perect 4-4 in the third down conversion department on the series as a Mark Himmelsbach keeper from 1 yard out put Hempfield back in the driver’s seat leading 10-7, which was the score after the third quarter of play.

After the Hempfield score, the Bulldogs, namely Iggy Reynoso, wasted little time in having an answer of their own. All it took was a 6 play, 2:12 drive that was capped off by a 24 yard scamper to endzone by Reynoso and the Bulldogs had answered the dinner bell once again as Wilson went back in front, now leading 14-10 with 11:04 to play in the ballgame.

For a brief moment on the ensuing Hempfield drive, it appeared that Wilson would get the ball back after forcing the Black Knight offense into a 3 & out series, but a running into the kicker penalty, occurring on a 4th & 5, would be just what the doctor ordered for Hempfield to keep the ball and have another crack at overtaking Wilson’s fourth quarter lead. That would not come however as the Bulldog defense rose to the challenge again, ultimately creating a 3rd & 14 play that was left fulfilled after an incomplete pass.

As the special teams units trotted onto the field, a shout rang out from the Wilson bleachers. “Stay away from the punter!” Ironically, they did exactly the opposite and this time it worked out to Wilson’s benefit. Nick Johnson was able to come free on the rush, blocking the punt, with Angel Martinez scooping it up and doing the rest from there as Martinez’s 27 yard blocked punt return touchdown put Wilson up by the now commanding 21-10 lead with 7:59 to go.

Although Hempfield would rally yet again and march deep into Wilson territory, a series of sacks spelled doom for any possible Hempfield comeback on this late October night. On 3rd & 12 from the Wilson 21 yard line, Quinn Spraut and Chris Price had a meeting back at the quarterback before Trevor Hatlee was able to seal the deal with a sack of his own on 4th & 15 to send Wilson back to West Lawn with the 21-10 victory.

As mentioned before, the theme to this week of football would be about psychology and the mental makeup of the 2017 Wilson Bulldogs. Earlier this season, Wilson found themselves in unfamiliar territory to say the least sporting a 1-2 record. From there, Wilson ripped off four straight LL Section 1 victories before last week’s setback to Manheim Township.

On the macro, it appeared that this group of Dawgs had that essential metal fortitude to bounce back in the face of adversity. On the micro, that was on full display Friday night. Down 3-0 going into halftime, in a game which felt it was being controlled by Hempfield, Wilson was able to weather the storm and prevail with a big second half showing.

“In the first half, we just weren’t tackling and we weren’t running through our tackles” Coach Dahms said after the game. “We just told them play solid fundamental football.” That they did. And with it, the Bulldogs hopes to play postseason football lives for another week.

NEXT UP: Wilson will return to Gurski Stadium after this two game road swing next Friday night as the Bulldogs tangle with the Conestoga Valley Buckskins on senior night. They will face a Buckskin squad that started the year off red-hot riding behind a sizzling offense, but CV will enter next week’s contest after having dropped their last three consecutive ballgames. Despite CV’s record 0-for record over the last month, they will no doubt have Wilson’s full attention given Wilson’s postseason aspirations. A week of prep that Wilson will hope to carry over from this week. “You sit there and say (Hempfield) is 6-2 and if we beat them then we’re right back into that playoff hunt. They’re a good football team,” Coach Dahms went on to explain regarding this past week’s outlook regarding Hempfield. “The kids were focused and we had a solid week of practice.”

Hempfield’s postseason hopes might have taken a significant blow after Friday’s setback to Wilson. It seems unfortunate to say given Hempfield’s performance the last few weeks as Hempfield came into Friday night as winners of their last four, but such is the case when you live in the unforgiving neighborhood of District 3 6A football. Whatever lies ahead for the Black Knights beyond next week, Hempfield will have a solid opportunity to bounce back on Friday night as they entertain Lebanon at Georgelis Law Firm Stadium.

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