Dowagiac holds off Tigers to win fourth straight game

Published 12:18 am Saturday, September 23, 2023

DOWAGIAC — A defensive stand in the closing seconds of its homecoming game against Benton Harbor kept the Dowagiac football team’s winning streak going Friday night at Chris Taylor-Alumni Field.

The visiting Tigers tried to spoil homecoming festivities as they rallied from a 27-18 deficit in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 27-26 with just over three minutes remaining.

Despite being whistled for numerous penalties as they tried to put the game away, the Chieftains were able to run enough time off the clock before punting to Benton Harbor, who drove inside the Dowagiac red zone before turning the ball over on downs with time left for one more snap.

The Chieftains went into victory formation, snapped the ball, and secured their fourth consecutive victory with a 27-26 win over the Tigers in Dowagiac’s Lakeland Conference opener.

You have to go back to the 2017 season to find four consecutive victories for the Chieftains in the regular season. Dowagiac rolled off wins against Sturgis, Otsego, South Haven and Paw Paw over weeks six through nine as it ended the regular season with a 6-3 record.

It was the Chieftains’ ground game and a defense that stiffened in the second half after giving up 18 points to Benton Harbor in the first 24 minutes that keep the winning streak going.

Trailing 18-13 at halftime, a touchdown with five seconds remaining in the second quarter turned the tide for the Chieftains, who were struggling to keep Tigers’ quarterback Jaeden Meeks and his bevy of talented receivers in check.

Justin Bannow capped off the Dowagiac drive with a 1-yard run, while Jacob Rial added the extra point kick to move the Chieftains within striking distance.

Dowagiac took the second-half kickoff and scored again as Bannow broke off a 52-yard run. Rial was good again on the extra points, and suddenly, the Chieftains were out front 20-18.

Dowagiac would increase its lead to 27-18 when Bannow once more found the end zone, this time for 10 yards out. Another Rial PAT and Dowagiac appeared to be in control heading into the final quarter.

Meeks and the Tigers were not done, though, as he tossed a 21-yard scoring pass and then ran in the 2-point conversion to cut the Chieftains’ lead to a single point.

Dowagiac (4-1, 1-0 Lakeland) was able to grind out some clock and kept the ball away from Benton Harbor (2-3, 1-1 Lakeland) long enough to force the Tigers into a must-have drive at the end of the game that came up just short.

After going 2-16 the past two seasons, third-year Dowagiac Coach Duane Davis admitted that Friday night’s game was one the Chieftains would have probably not won, but that his team has a new-found confidence that has allowed it to rebound from a season-opening loss at South Haven to winning four straight contests.

“This was the kind of game we weren’t even in in the past,” he said. “The kids said it at the end. They all said that they loved each and that it was a team win, which they said even before I came could beat them to it. So, the foundation is there. They are believing in what we are trying to do.”

Davis also pointed out that the score just before halftime set the tone for the remainder of the game.

“Tenfold, that was a momentum changer for us,” he said. “For us to come out to throw it, and everyone knows we haven’t done much of that this year, but we have confidence in [Isaiah] Fitchett. Coach [Nick] File, the OC [offensive coordinator] has confidence in him. He makes some good reads.”

Davis said that his offensive line was determined to score on the second half’s opening drive and take control of the game.

“They said it at halftime,” he said. “The said, ‘coach, we got you, we are going to take it right down the field.’ I told them, ‘okay, then do it.’ We didn’t need many plays. It was Bannow to the house. He’s a difference maker.”

Dowagiac now turns its attention to Brandywine, which came up short in its rally at Buchanan, falling to the Bucks 20-16. The Chieftains travel to Niles Friday night to face the Bobcats in their homecoming contest.