MAYVILLE - With a little less than five minutes remaining, Maple Grove coach Curt Fischer hollered from the sidelines at the Red Dragons huddle. Or more specifically at his running back, Oliver Simpson.
Simpson, knowing that his coach had decided it was time for him to exit the game, resisted at first, but eventually aquiesced.
Photo by Scott Reagle
Chautauqua Lake’s Nick?Zents, left, follows the blocking of fullback Dustin Graziano, right, during Friday’s Class D high school football game.
"I didn't want to come out," he said afterwards. "I wanted to keep running the ball."
By then, however, Simpson didn't need to carry the ball anymore, he'd done so successfully enough already.
Shrugging off what had just a week prior looked to his coaches like a possibly season-ending injury, Simpson, his sprained shoulder heavily bandaged, rushed for a team-high 112 yards on 25 carries to lead still-undefeated Maple Grove to a 21-0 victory over host Chautauqua Lake (3-1) on Friday evening.
"He was gutsy to play through it," Fischer said. "He was definitely hurting."
At times, in between snaps when quarterback Aaron Germain went through his cadence, the pain seemed to show as Simpson's arm simply hung there - useless, immobile.
But the moment the ball got in his hands, any pain he may have felt seemingly disappeared.
"After a couple of hits it was nothing," Simpson said. "Not a problem."
Nowhere was that more evident than during the Red Dragons' decisive, late-game drive.
Holding a tenuous, 7-0 advantage (Derek Johnson had scored the first of his two touchdowns from nine yards out on the team's opening possession) late in the third quarter, Maple Grove, which had spent the better part of the second and third periods airing the ball out - with limited success - refocused on the run. Taking possession at their own 26-yard line, the Red Dragons gave handoff after handoff after handoff (at one point he was given the ball on 11 straight plays) to Simpson, who led them down the field before capping the 15-play drive with a 7-yard plunge to push the advantage to 14.
"We tried to run behind our big guys, pulling them and trying to let Oliver follow behind," Fischer said of the drive, which spanned an whopping 7 minutes. "He was getting anxious at times and cutting back too early, but he finally started finding his holes and that's what is unbelievable. If we give him a couple of creases then he'll start finding the holes."
Given the way the Maple Grove defense had played throughout the game, that 14-point advantage was an insurmountable deficit for Chautauqua Lake.
Jonah Tanner, a sophomore who was making his first-career varsity start, racked up nine tackles (four solo), a sack and a forced fumble while Johnson made 13 tackles. As a whole, the Maple Grove defense held a Thunderbirds squad that had averaged some 270 yards on the ground over their first three games - all victories - to a mere 77.
"Up front they were better than we were, no question," Chautauqua Lake coach Dan Greco said. "Their defensive front made a lot of plays. Actually, they (all) made a lot of plays period. They were just very good tonight."
In the face of the stout Maple Grove defense, Chautauqua Lake, which was led by running back Nick Zentz with 50 yards on 13 rushes, never threatened, and moved into Red Dragons' territory exactly once, reaching the Maple Grove 49 with 2:11 left in regulation.
"Defensively I have to say that coach (Dave) Emley did an unreal job," Fischer said. "He puts the kids in the right spot and I thought he did a super job."
The victory put Maple Grove, the state's top-ranked team in Class D, atop the standings at 4-0 with games against winless I-Prep at Grover, Portville and Frewsburg remaining.