By Andrew Wyder
Sun Group Newspapers
New Richmond couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start last Friday night.
Two quick touchdowns helped the Lions take an early lead over Southern Buckeye Conference-American Division rival Western Brown less than five minutes in.
But the 13-point lead just wasn’t enough in what turned out to be an offensive showdown.
Both team’s offenses racked up over 380 yards of total offense as they matched the other’s offensive production throughout the first half and most of the third quarter.
Ironically, on a night when offense was king, it was a defense that made the biggest plays.
The Broncos stopped New Richmond twice on fourth down late in the fourth quarter to seal a 42-36 win in the conference opener for both teams.
“That’s what it comes down to,” Lions coach Scott Herman said of the fourth down stops. “But… we didn’t stop them enough. Our offense did a great job of moving the ball and scoring points. If we get a couple stops, we separate it and make it, possibly, a two (or) three score game. And it’s a totally different game.”
Blake Thompson’s 54-yard touchdown run and Malik Davis’ interception returned for a touchdown on the Broncos first offensive play seemingly put the Lions in about the best position they could have hoped for.
They jumped out to the 13-0 lead with 7:17 left in the opening quarter.
While the Broncos did eventually find life on offense, the early scores helped the visitors take a 29-21 lead into halftime as Levi Simpson nailed a 34-yard field goal as time expired on the first half.
It didn’t take long for that lead to evaporate, however, as the Broncos wasted little time keeping its offensive momentum rolling.
In fact, it started on the opening kickoff of the second half.
Jake Lawson returned the kickoff 30 yards for the Broncos into Lions territory, something that was a theme all night long for the Broncos.
“Our kickoff team gave them great field position,” Herman said. “Many times they started inside in our territory. Two first downs and they’re in the red zone.”
With that great field position, the Broncos wasted little time tying the game.
Gunnar Woodyard took a screen pass just beyond the line of scrimmage, followed his blockers, cut outside and sprinted into the end zone for a 48-yard score.
A two-point conversion from Devyn Wood to Christian Dawson tied the game at 29 apiece just 0:45 into the second half.
After they forced a quick three and out and a Lions punt, the Broncos took the lead.
Though they drove to inside the Lions 10 yard line, a bad snap forced a Justin Berkley 40-yard field goal attempt. The senior drilled the kick to give the Broncos a 32-29 lead with 7:13 left in the third quarter.
“The beginning of the third quarter is crucial in any game,” Herman said. “We didn’t stop them.”
Trailing for the first time all night, the Lions moved the ball down field quickly on the ensuing drive.
Clay Loadman’s 44-yard run into Broncos territory and Simpson’s 22-yard run set up Simpson’s quarterback sneak from a yard out that gave the Lions a 36-32 lead.
The Lions ran for 331 yards against the Broncos, including 200 yards and two scores from Thompson and 36 yards and two scores from Simpson.
As well as the Lions offense was playing, though, the defense just couldn’t find get a stop.
Another big return set up another Berkley field goal, this one from 28 yards out, that got the Broncos within one, 36-35.
Brady Brooks got the Broncos the ball back two plays into the Lions next drive as he sacked Simpson and forced a fumble, which was recovered by his Bronco teammate Derrick McIntosh.
Two plays later Wood found Pierce Moore for an over the shoulder catch just inside the pylon to give the Broncos a 42-36 lead with 2:19 left in the third quarter.
“We didn’t give our offense a chance,” Herman said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
The Lions had chances late but the Broncos defense made big plays when they were needed.
On the 14th play of their first drive of the fourth quarter, the Lions were facing a fourth down and five at the Broncos 25 yard line.
They gave the ball to Thompson on a pitch but Brooks tripped him up before he could get to the first down marker.
But when the Lions forced the Broncos to punt with 2:44 left in the game, they gave themselves one more chance.
The Broncos defense held the first three downs, which brought up a fourth down and nine from the Lions own 46-yard line.
On the fourth down play, Simpson quickly found Thompson out the backfield on a quick pass and the junior running back turned up field.
He looked to be close to the first down but, after the officials measured, the ball was just inches short of the first down.
On a night full of offense, it was the Broncos defense that made the biggest plays.
“We came out the second half,” Western Brown coach Evan Dreyer said, “and I think we played a great ballgame.”