For the first time in nearly two years, Dunkirk (2-1) was able to ring the victory bell at Karl Hoeppner Field, as the Marauders dropped the East Aurora Blue Devils (0-3), 16-14, Friday night during Class B South football action.
"Right after the game, it didn't hit me until the kids started running (toward the bell)," Dunkirk head football coach Rob Genco said. "I definitely started tearing up and I was just proud that they were able to do that. I didn't know it was going to be that cool. It was awesome. That's an awesome tradition that I hope we can keep going."
All game long, Edwin Gomez had made it known that he felt he was able to get to the Blue Devils' punter, pleading with Genco to give him the chance to get in there and block the punt.
OBSERVER?Photo by Justin?Goetz
Dunkirk’s Marquel Ruiz (5) breaks away from a trio of East Aurora defenders during Friday’s Class B South high school football game. The Marauders defeated the Blue Devils, 16-14, for their first home win in over a year.
With East Aurora backed up to its own 8-yard line and less than two minutes to go in a 14-all game, the pressure Gomez created allowed Jared Miernik to make the biggest play of Dunkirk's season, as he blocked the punt forcing the decisive safety and giving the Marauders their first win on the year-old turf field.
"I told (Gomez), if you hit that kicker and you don't touch that ball, that's an automatic first down," Genco noted. "And he kind of looked at me and I didn't say another word and the kid went out and made a heck of a play."
The Marauders did not make things easy on themselves, allowing a 44-yard touchdown run to Joe Gugino that helped tie the game, and then gave up an interception at the Blue Devils' 27-yard line on the first play of the ensuing drive with just 2:04 left in the game.
"That was supposed to be a corner route to Jared (Miernik) that we had hit earlier and he ran a post," Genco said of the interception. "Kevin (Burns), I saw his eyes, and he was trying to make a big play and he can do that. He has the ability and the green light to do that. He's such a good runner that I would have preferred he take the ball and go."
The Marauders' defense came through however, forcing the Blue Devils into a three-and-out after a failed run attempt and an offensive pass interference call put them in an 4th-and-29 situation.
East Aurora scored the game's first touchdown after an extended game-opening drive by Dunkirk resulted in a Zach Torrain fumble in the end zone, which gave the Blue Devils a drive start at their own 20-yard line. On its very first play, East Aurora quarterback Alec Hibit found a streaking Dan Reischuck down the right sideline for 80 yards. The extra point gave the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead with 1:27 left in the opening quarter.
"The turnovers, we need to work on them," Genco said. "We can't keep living by them, because we're not going to be able to squeak every game out as we move through the schedule."
Prior to the fumble, Torrain had helped the Marauders chew up 62 yards on 18 plays, taking 10:33 off the clock.
"They chewed up a lot of time," East Aurora head coach Tim Wade said of Dunkirk's offense. "That whole first half, we didn't get many offensive opportunities. They just ground it out and they found the passes when they had to hit them. And they got some opportune runs when they needed to."
Dunkirk continued to chew up yards and time, but were unable to get the East Aurora defense to break until midway through the second quarter.
After taking over on its own 44-yard line, Dunkirk used eight plays and 3:36 of clock to score its first touchdown of the night - a 1-yard plunge by Burns. The extra point kick by Marquel Ruiz hit off the left upright, leaving the score, 7-6, with 2:54 left in the first half.
"We have a formula," Genco said of his offense. "Marquel (Ruiz) is that guy that we can use as kind of like a little DeSean Jackson of the (Philadelphia) Eagles. He's that playmaker type. He's not going to run inside the tackles, but when it comes to a big catch or a big play (he's going to make it)."
The game remained 7-6 into the fourth quarter, before the Marauders were able to take their first lead of the game.
Taking over with 9:18 left in regulation at their own 14-yard line, the Marauders embarked on an eight play, 86-yard drive that was capped off by a 5-yard sweep around the left side by Ruiz.
"He scored a nice touchdown and he's that guy (who can make a big play)," Genco said of Ruiz. "And Torrain is that guy up the middle and we have Kevin with his arm who can throw with the best of them. I like what we have and I like the way we use our guys and we're going to keep working to minimize the mistakes."
Torrain ran the ball up the middle on the two-point conversion, putting the Marauders up by seven with 5:38 left.
Facing a 4th-and-15 at their own 31-yard line, the Blue Devils got a bit of luck on a tipped pass to keep their hopes alive, then got the big run from Gugino that led to the game-tying score.
"We can't just win it easy," Genco said. "We don't like easy I guess. And we don't win easy. We have to take it down to the last second. But that builds character and we have to learn from that. That ball is in the air and we have to bat it down.
"We stopped (playing)," Genco continued. "That ball was tipped and our kids started celebrating and their guys kept playing."
NOTES: Torrain finished with 86 yards on 18 carries ... Burns was 9-of-16 for 136 yards and two interceptions ... Ruiz finished with 57 yards on seven receptions ... Gomez had 11 tackles, a fumble recovery and 23 yards on two receptions ... Miernik had four tackles, a sack and the blocked punt ... Juliam Fred added five tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.