By Mark Ruschau
WAPAKONETA -- One year ago, Hardin Northern coach Pete Brunow and his boys stood on the floor of Harmon Field in Wapakoneta accepting the regional runnerup trophy after a heartbreaking loss to eventual state-runnerup Marion Local.
Friday night it was Brunow and the Polar Bears accepting the Division VI Region 24 championship hardware after they scored 22 straight points in the second half to rally and defeat the New Bremen Cardinals, 22-7, in a game of two distinct halfs.
Hardin Northen improves to 12-1 on the season and moves on to the state semifinals on Friday facing Danville (11-2). New Bremen bows out of the tournament at 9-4.
"Last year I stood on this field and watched one get away from us and tonight it was just the opposite ending," said Brunow. "This place has been awful tough on us but everybody came together tonight and we were able to get out of here with a tough win."
The first half belonged to New Bremen as it forced two Polar tunovers and held them to just 30 yards of offense. Also in the first half, New Bremen ran 32 plays and had the ball for 15:31 of the 24 minutes, had the ball three times in Hardin Northern territory and came up with just seven points.
New Bremen took the opening kick and moved the ball to midfield before turning the ball over with Hardin Northern taking the ball at its own 25.
On the Polar Bears' first play from scrimmage, Michael Ridgeway coughed up the ball with Andy McMurray recovering the fumble at the Hardin Northern 26. New Bremen was unable to take advantage of the fumble as quarterback Alex Leugers missed on two passes.
After stopping Hardin Northern, New Bremen took over on its own 21 and moved the ball to the Polar Bear 26 where the drive stopped when Leugers was picked off by Ridgeway.
New Bremen then received a major break as a backwards lateral pass by Justin Crossman went over the head of Damien Plaugher and was recovered by Jeff Thobe at the 14.
It took the Cardinals five plays to cover the 14 yards with Thobe plunging in from a yard out with 2:21 left in the half to give his team a 7-0 lead at the half.
"I feel real bad about giving them that touchdown at end of the half," said Brunow. "The kids were able to overcome it and come out and played strong in the second half."
Looking like a totally different team, Hardin Northern came out and doubled its total offense as it took the second-half kick at its own 33 and went 67 yards in 11 plays with Ridgeway going in from a yard out. On the drive Ridgeway had 36 yards on six carries.
After stuffing New Bremen defensively, Hardin Northern took over at its own 35 and marched 65 yards on nine running plays and with Crossman hooking up with Wyatt Thames on a 12-yard pass for the score with just 31 seconds left in the third quarter to make the score 13-7 after three. On the drive, Thames had 39 yards on four carries.
Again after stopping New Bremen defensively, the Bears made it three scores in three drives as they moved from their own 33 to the New Bremen eight before settling for a 26-yard Thames field goal to make the score 16-7. The key play in the drive was a 26-yard run by Crossman for a first down to the New Bremen 24 on a third-and-nine.
Hardin Northern added one last score as it stopped New Bremen on fourth down at the Cardinal 20. Two plays later, the Bears were in the end zone with Ridgeway going the final 15 yards.
The difference in the two halfs can been seen in the numbers. Hardin Northern ran 33 plays for 192 yards and the Polar defense held New Bremen to just 10 plays and nine yards.
"I'm not really sure what the difference was on defense between the two halfs," said Brunow. "I know we put the ball on the ground more then we are used to and I thought we played good defense for the most part all night long but we were playing on a short field.
"I thought the kids just started to believe in themselves after that first drive at the start of the second half," continued Brunow. "Michael and Wyatt both ran like crazy men and we were able to control the second half."
"They came at us with an unbalanced line in the second half and went right at us," said New Bremen coach Howard Overman. "Our kids played real hard but you have to give hats off to coach Brunow and his players."