By Garth Shanklin
The Batavia Bulldogs spent part of Friday night’s win dodging raindrops and lightning strikes off the field as severe weather rolled through the area. On the field, the team’s rushing attack spent the remainder of the night dodging East Clinton defenders.
Batavia rolled up 342 yards of rushing on the ground, 175 of which came from Austin Maham, en route to a season-opening 26-21 victory over East Clinton.
The Astros started the scoring, taking a 6-0 lead just before the end of the first quarter on a 26 yard pass from quarterback Brenden Jenkins to Wyatt Floyd. Batavia answered at the 7:09 mark of the second quarter, with Austin Maham ripping off the first of his three touchdowns, this one a 52-yard sprint that put the Bulldogs ahead 7-6.
After an East Clinton fumble, Batavia quarterback Will Scaggs hit Spencer Fluegel for a 23-yard touchdown, putting the Bulldogs ahead 13-6 after the extra point was missed. East Clinton would record a safety, cutting the Batavia lead to 13-8 at halftime.
Just after the halftime break began, lightning entered the area and forced a delay. The game would eventually resume at 9:30 p.m. Head coach Matt Lester said the amount of time his players spend around each other helped them stay focused through the delay.
“I think we were pretty focused on our own,” Lester said. “I think we’re just used to spending a lot of time here with each other. A lot of teams don’t do two-a-days, we still do. We practice pretty long, about three hours a day. We’re just used to it. That helped us prepare for this, and I was pretty proud of how they responded.”
East Clinton struck for a touchdown midway through the third quarter, taking a 14-13 lead. Maham answered two minutes later with a 38-yard touchdown run to put the Bulldogs ahead.
The score stayed the same until the 6:54 mark of the fourth quarter. Maham sprinted up the sideline for 56 yards, putting the Bulldogs ahead 26-14. East Clinton would add another touchdown run, but the Bulldogs held on for the victory. Lester didn’t hold back when describing how the win felt.
“Awesome,” Lester said. “After last season, we still have a long way to go. We have arguably our toughest opponent next week, but right now we’re just going to enjoy this. It feels really good. It’s a culmination of the work that they’ve put in, and it shows that their belief in the core values we have are actually working and paying off.”
Lester said the team had players in the game who were not 100 percent healthy, but took the field regardless, which showed the type of toughness his team needs to win close games.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re getting better every day.” Lester said. “We’re not where we want to be, we’re not as tough as we want to be, but out there on that field we had guys playing dinged up. We had guys playing both ways. That’s a tough bunch of kids right there, I have faith we’ll keep getting better.”
Maham’s huge night on the ground is hopefully a sign of more things to come, according to Lester.“It was what I had hoped his junior year would be,” Lester said. “He’s a special player, and he’s fast as lightning. I hope to see more of it out of him, he’s a good one.”
The play of Batavia’s offensive line had a lot to do with the team’s success running the football, and Lester acknowledged just how far the position group has come in a short amount of time.
“They improved by leaps and bounds,” Lester said. “Looking back two scrimmages ago, we thought they were kind of a weak link on the team, but their hard work and conditioning really paid off. They just never quit grinding and kept opening up holes, even late at the end.”
Defensively, the team played solid at times and made plays when they needed to, like on the interception just before Maham’s third touchdown run. While the team may lack consistency on that side of the ball for now, Lester believes they can sort it out.
“We have to clean up a lot on defense,” Lester said. “At times we played stellar, at times we had some mental lapses. We have to clean it up, but I’m confident we will. We showed at times tonight we had a pretty good defense.”
Batavia’s defense will need to be on their game as the Bulldogs prepare to make a trip to Mariemont on Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. The Warriors slipped by Oakwood 30-29 in their opener and defeated the Bulldogs 35-24 in Batavia last season. Lester said speed will be a big part of both team’s game plans.
“They’re really fast,” Lester said. “I think it’s going to be a battle of who’s fastest. They’re a speed-based team, we’re a speed-based team. They’re really good, but if we can beat them, we’re going to be looking at having a really good season.”