It won't air on ESPN, but Riverside Brookfield's 36-35 win over Nazareth on Saturday will be remembered locally as an "instant classic." Coming off an opening week loss to Metamora, the Bulldogs' remarkable comeback against rival Nazareth is the type of inspiration that just might serve as a catalyst for the entire season.
Trailing 35-14 with 3:03 left in the third quarter, the resilient Bulldogs used their high powered offense to run off 22 points in slightly over the final 15 minutes of play.
Riverside Brookfield quarterback Chris Pesek (23-of-40, 310 yards passing) led the charge with four touchdown passes, notably a spectacular 17-yard touchdown pass hauled in by 5-foot-10 receiver Deon Walker. Walker, who had nine catches for100 yards, leapt high over a defender to cut the Roadrunners' lead to 35-34 with 6:04 left in the game.
Pesek gave the Bulldogs the lead for good when he converted the 2-point conversion on a run to make it a 36-35 score.
"It was a crazy game, that's what Riverside Brookfield-Nazareth games are always going to be like," said RB coach Otto Zeman. "The key for us was that we made yardage running the football. I hate to run it, but we had to do that to open things up for us."
Although RB is regarded as one of the most explosive offenses in the area, Nazareth actually came out with the decided edge for most of the first half. Led by quarterback Rodney Payton (200 yards rushing, 2 passing touchdowns) the host Roadrunners used a ball control attack to grab a 21-0 lead.
Pesek responded with a pair of touchdown passes of 9 and 15 yards to Christian Musser to cut the deficit to 21-14. However, the Roadrunners tacked on two more touchdowns to extend the lead back to 21 points at 35-14.
Down but certainly not out, the Bulldogs used a running attack of their own featuring running backs Greg Pawlik and Austin Badder. Along with Pesek's aerial show, Pawlik scored on an 8-yard touchdown run. Pesek tossed a 12-yard strike to Mike Razniewski (6catches, 145 yards) to pull within 35-28 with 9:21 left in the game.
Three minutes later, Pesek led the Bulldogs on an 8-play, 65-yard scoring march and then added his decisive 2-point run.
For the game, the Bulldogs tallied 26 first downs.
Obviously, we were down in the first half, but we came back fired up," Pesek said. "Everybody was on the same page. Our offensive line did a phenomenal job. We were able to score and give our defense some encouragement to make stops."
RB's defense did exactly that when linebacker Dylan Wienke sacked the elusive Payton on a critical third down with 5:56 remaining in the fourth.
"It took us awhile to get started because we have an inexperienced defense," Wienke said. "Our coaches told us to calm down and we were fine after that. We know a lot of the guys from Nazareth so it's a cross-town rivalry. To come in here and win is huge for us."
The Bulldogs (1-1) take on Robeson on Saturday (3 p.m.) at Stagg Field.