Niles upset again
By By Rob Babler / Niles Daily Star
ST. JOSEPH -- In most sports, statistics can often fail to tell the story of a game.
Such was the case Friday night in St. Joseph, where the Niles Vikings fell to the host Bears, 30-24 in Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference West Division action Friday.
The Vikings outgained the Bears 360 yards to 235 yards. Included in that was a 212-38 edge in rushing through the first three quarters.
But the Bears were opportunistic, relying on special teams for good field position, and one strong drive in the final quarter to seal the victory.
Niles looked early as if it would run away with the game, literally. After a three-and-out series to open the game for St. Joe, Viking senior running back Lonnie Jones (29 carries, 250 yards) broke a 59-yard touchdown run on Niles' fourth play of the game to give the visiting Vikings a 6-0 lead.
After another three-and-out series, the Vikings scored again, this time off a one-yard quarterback sneak by junior Jason Rutkowski. This followed a 41-yard pass he completed to senior Ivery Cross.
After the game, Viking coach Dave Janicki was complimentary of his versatile senior, who also saw action in the second and third quarters at quarterback, which Janicki said happened in an effort to jump-start the offense.
But just as the momentum was all Niles', the Bears snatched some of it back when senior Daniel LaFond broke a long kickoff return that put St. Joe on the Viking 31-yard line. Four plays later, the Bears were on the scoreboard when senior kicker Nickolas Sherrill connected on a 43-yard field goal.
The first quarter ended with Niles outgaining the Bears 126-18. The Viking defense kept the Bear offense from registering a first down the entire quarter.
Despite that, the Bears' momentum carried over from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second when they denied Niles a first down on its next series. LaFond then struck again, this time with a 35-yard return to start St. Joe on the Vikings' 25-yard line. Four plays later, and early into the second quarter, the Bears cut the Viking lead to 12-10 on a Tyler Dejong 15-yard touchdown run.
It took less than a minute for Niles to expand its lead to eight points, and then less than half that time for St. Joe to close the gap again to two points.
On the second play of Niles' series following Dejong's touchdown run, Jones again scored, this time on an 80-yard run in which he broke four tackles.
But the Viking momentum lasted as long as the kickoff, when LaFond put the Bears on their own two-yard line by returning the ball 92 yards. Dejong scored again on the next play.
The Bears took to the air on the next series, and two critical plays led to the first St. Joe lead of the game. Quarterback Andrew Schueneman hit receiver Sean Baptist for a 67-yard gain on the first play of the team's next series, and then connected with him again for an eight-yard touchdown three plays later.
St. Joe took a 22-18 lead into halftime.
Both teams were scoreless in the third quarter, but Niles looked as if had regained its momentum, when Schueneman was sacked and fumbled late in the stanza. This placed the Vikings on St. Joe's 41 yard line.
The Vikings regained the lead early in the fourth quarter, 24-22, on a 20-yard run by Stacey Caskey.
However, the Bears' longest drive of the game came when it mattered the most.
Midway in the quarter, the team scored with 4:36 left, following an eight-play, 90-yard drive, capped off by a 12-yard keeper by Schuneman. The Bear quarterback scored off a draw in shotgun formation, which St. Joe used the entire drive. Schueneman's touchdown was his fifth quarterback draw of the drive.
Viking coach Dave Janicki said
With the score 30-24 in favor of the Bears, Niles took possession of the ball on its own 20-yard line.
A false start backed the Vikings to the 15-yard line, but no the next play, Jones looked as if he scored the apparent go-ahead touchdown when he left and sprinted 85 yards into the endzone.
As he was nearing the endzone, however, a flag was thrown back at the Viking 38-yard line for an illegal block, which moved the ball back to the it own 28-yard line.
The call caused some controversy, with Janicki vehemently disputing it and Van Wagonner agreeing with the flag.
Niles' bid to win the game was effectively ended when the team failed on a fourth-down conversion at the Bears' 46-yard line.
Although Janicki was visibly upset after the game, the tone in his voice also suggested a resolve that he and his team will most likely use this loss to rebound for next week's playoff game.