It has been a rough start to the season for the Riverside-Brookfield Bulldogs. Just last year, RB posted a perfect 5-0 Suburban Prairie East (SPEC) record?"what a difference a year makes. After losing 35-14 against Lemont Friday, the Bulldogs (1-4 overall, 1-1 SPEC) find themselves in the unenviable position of having to win their next three games to have any hope of qualifying for the playoffs.
Lemont (5-1, 2-0) cruised to 28-0 halftime lead, largely due to speedy Aaron Nagel. The Injun running back finished the contest with 22 carries for 170 yards and four TDs. With Lemont running roughshod over the Bulldogs both offensively and defensively in the first half, RB quarterback Chris Pesek offered a succinct explanation for the poor showing.
"We just didn't come playing hard at all," the junior said. "Our offense was definitely flat to start the game and (Lemont) made us pay."
Indeed, the Injuns wasted no time in ruining RB's Homecoming, mounting an impressive 13-play opening drive, capped by a 13-yard scamper by Nagel at the 6:33 mark in the first quarter. Relying solely on its passing attack, RB was unable to generate any consistent offense throughout the first half, which left RB coach Otto Zemen scratching his head and searching for answers.
"We played terribly in the first half," he said. "We didn't execute. (Lemont) is a good football team, but we helped them look even better in the first half."
Despite the 28-point Lemont lead, however, RB might have salvaged its season based on its second-half performance. After an early third quarter TD provided Lemont a commanding 35-0 lead, the Bulldogs could have easily folded. Instead, RB mounted a five-play drive that ended on a 15-yard lob from Pesek to senior receiver Matt Sandrik, who out-leapt the Lemont defender in the corner of the end zone to provide RB's first points of the night. A Pesek pass to Mike Razniewski gave the Bulldogs a two-point conversion and notched the score at 35-9. Pesek finished the game with 339 passing yards, completing 25 of his 48 attempts and was picked off twice.
Perhaps buoyed by its offense, the Bulldog defense buckled down on the next Lemont possession and began to plug the holes so easily created by the Injun offensive line in the first half. Consequently, RB forced Lemont to concede its first three-and-out of the evening. The RB offense then picked right up where it left off, beginning its drive on its own 44-yard line and marching to the Injun 5-yard line. Pesek then found Sandrik (9 receptions, 111 yards) on a five-yard strike for the TD. RB failed to connect on the two-point conversion to close the scoring for the night. Bulldog Oscar Reyes finished with eight receptions for 135 yards.
Though upset about his Bulldogs' flat performance in the first half, linebacker Hank Sitkiewicz said he was pleased the way his team rebounded in the third and fourth quarters.
"We got in a big hole in the first half and it was tough to dig ourselves out," he said. "We really have to focus better in our pre-game to make sure this doesn't happen again. I also think our defense has to do a better job by not letting the other team score first. We just have to keep battling and hopefully things will change for us."
So, can the Bulldogs turn the season around? Coach Zeman thinks so.
"We have to win the next three games?"it's as simple as that. So far, our performance has been disappointing, because sometimes we don't show up to play. But, if we play well, I think we can win the next three games. But, if we don't play well, it is going to be a long winter. That is for sure."
The Bulldogs travel to Fenton this Friday (7:30 p.m.).