Dowagiac football bounces back with 33-14 win over Watervliet in home opener

Published 1:04 am Friday, September 1, 2023

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DOWAGIAC — After a disappointing opener a week ago against South Haven, the Dowagiac Union football team responded in a big way Thursday night against visiting Watervliet.

Behind a strong performance from its front lines, the Chieftains ran over the Panthers 33-14 to pick up their first week of the season. The win avenges a 52-13 loss to the Panthers last season.

“We’ve been striving over the offseason trying to change things a little bit,” said Dowagiac Head Coach Duane Davis. “My seniors, they all bought in; all I got is 31 varsity players and everybody was there every day. I think it started there and then this week was a great week back. We got our best week of practice this week and it showed.”

The Panthers did not have an answer for Dowagiac’s run game. Running back Justin Bannow (20 yards), quarterback Isaiah Fitchett (3 yards) and running back Jonah Peterson (11 yards) propelled the Chieftains to a 19-0 lead in the first half before a late interception allowed Watervliet quarterback Jacob Schaefer to find running back Wyatt Epple on a 27-yard touchdown pass to make it a 19-8 game at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Chieftains went back to Bannow and he delivered, scoring from 7 yards out and getting the 2-point conversion to push Dowagiac’s lead to 27-8 with 6:47 left in the quarter. The Panthers were able to respond through the air with Kaiden Bierhalter taking a Schaefer screen pass 27 yards for a touchdown to make it a 27-14 game going into the fourth.

Dowagiac’s Lamone Moore Jr. punched in a 1-yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining to round out the scoring.

Davis praised his offensive line for their performance.

Those guys have been through the fire with me,” he said. “My right tackle played as a freshman on varsity when I took over the program and my left tackle was a freshman. They’ve gone through fire and it shows because now, they just outwork everybody. We did last week against South Haven, we just gave up some really crazy stuff at the end. I’m proud of these guys, the O-line. We’ve been hanging our hats on that every day.”

Bannow led the team with two touchdown runs and helped set the tone on offense.

“I’m telling you (Bannow) is special,” Davis said. “He’s really is, he put in so much time and work and the offseason with me. He’s really changed himself. He’s just so fast.”

Jamal Williams intercepted a Schaefer pass and senior Isiah Hill picked up a sack in the second half. Hill, who was the starting quarterback last season and last week against South Haven, elected to defer the position to Fitchett, a junior, so that he could focus on defense.

“Isaiah Hill, he’s a leader. Just a plain-out leader,” Davis said. “He let (Fitchett) take the reps this week and he said ‘I’m gonna go play defense, coach.’ Yeah, so he kind of relinquished it. (Fitchett) jumped in and did a great job tonight and Isiah did a great job on defense, so I’m probably both of them.”

Dowagiac (1-1) will host Coloma at 7 p.m. next week Friday. The Chieftains are 24-2 against the Comets dating back to 1950, with their last loss in the series coming in 1979, a 21-20 setback.

Davis hopes Friday’s win is a momentum builder to bring the Dowagiac program back to its winning ways.

“It starts with work ethic,” Davis said. “We’ve lacked consistency in offseason work in the past and this year, we finally were consistent in putting in the hard work. We had great two-a-days. Everybody was there so we had a really good offseason and I think that’s gonna transition to the tradition getting back to what needs to be.”