After victimizing the Riverside-Brookfield defense for four touchdowns to power visiting Gary West Side past the Bulldogs 38-36 on Friday, the Cougars’ 6-3, 188-pound wideout Lonnie Johnson encouragingly shouted over to the RB huddle, “Way to fight, Blue.”
Despite their gut wrenching loss to Gary West Side and an 0-3 record overall, Johnson’s comment rings true about the scrappy Bulldogs who are certainly battling this season.
Johnson, who is drawing recruiting interest from Notre Dame, LSU and several other Division I programs, seemingly iced the nonconference tilt against RB on a 36-yard touchdown run extending the Cougars’ lead to 38-30 with 1:41 remaining.
RB responded with a great kickoff return from Joe Urbanski coupled with a Gary West Side personal foul. Setting up shop at the Gary’s 38, the Bulldogs calmly orchestrated an efficient seven-play, 38-yard scoring drive to close the gap to 38-36 with 35 seconds left in the game. The Bulldogs scored the touchdown on a brilliant play call as quarterback Jack VandeMerkt handed off to Urbanski, who lofted an 11-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Joe Odeh (7 catches, 91 yards).
“We had been working on that play for special situations,” Odeh said. “Joe gave me a great pass; all I had to do was catch the ball.”
Running back Justin Agne fell just short of the end zone on the game-tying, two-point conversion attempt.
Amazingly, the Bulldogs had one more shot at victory as Odeh recovered Santiago Beltran’s onside kick with 34.8 seconds remaining in the contest. Three plays later though, VandeMerkt (11-for-23, 107 yards) was picked off by Gary West Side cornerback Curtis Lee.
“I wish we could have stuck with the ground game a little more,” RB coach Brendan Curtin said, “but trailing with not much time left we kind of had to go to a no-huddle offense.”
The entire game offered a see-saw rhythm as RB struck first on a 35-yard touchdown pass from VandeMerkt to Odeh at the 8:58 mark of the first quarter. Gary West Side answered back with a 23-yard touchdown connection from quarterback Ramone Atkins to Johnson midway through the first quarter. Atkins hit the spectacular Johnson again on a 73-yard touchdown pass making the score 12-7.
The Bulldogs regained the lead at 16-12 courtesy of a 45-yard touchdown run from Kevin Garvey and 23-yard field goal from Beltran. Pinned at their 1-yard line in the closing minutes of the first half, the Cougars scored on Atkins’ bubble pass to Jon Vea’ Johnson, who raced 99 yards to take an 18-16 halftime advantage.
Garvey (10 carries, 136 yards) tallied two more touchdowns in the second half on runs of 31 yards and 18 yards – the latter putting RB up 30-26 with 5:13 left in the game.