By Gary R. Rasberry
COLDWATER -- The saying about a defense bending, but not breaking was a perfect way to describe the Coldwater defense on Friday night.
The Cavaliers gave up 277 rushing yards to Delphos St. John's in the regular-season finale, 190 coming from option quarterback Nick Johnson. However, the Blue Jays could only make it to the end zone twice in the contest, giving the Cavaliers plenty of chances for big plays.
Big plays did come Coldwater's way, allowing the Cavaliers to win 20-12 at a soggy Cavalier Stadium to capture the Midwest Athletic Conference title outright with a 10-0 regular-season record and a 9-0 mark in the Midwest Athletic Conference. St. John's, which needed the win to keep its playoff hopes alive, end the season at 6-4 overall and 5-4 MAC.
Even though the field was water-logged from a full day of rain and evolved into a mud pit by night's end, the Blue Jays were able to move the ball, outgaining the Cavaliers 311-223 on the night.
"I was real impressed how they ran the option play in the mud and the sludge," said Coldwater coach John Reed. "Fortunately, the field was an equalizer tonight. "I'll tell you. He's phenomenal," said Reed of Johnson. "He is an outstanding quarterback. He's like lightning in a bottle. At any moment, you suspect him to ride that fullback back up there and break through the line. ... He just makes play after play for them."
The night didn't start out well for Coldwater as on the second play of the game Tony Harlamert fumbled on his own 36, giving the Jays excellent field position. Johnson moved the ball well out of the option, getting 23 yards on the drive, including the final five for the touchdown with 71Ú2 minutes left.
Then the Cavalier defense stepped up, allowing the Blue Jays to move the ball until it came time to clamp down. On the next possession, the Blue Jays got down to the Coldwater 32, but Johnson missed a pass on fourth-and-five to give the ball back to Coldwater.
The Cav offense was slowed as Harlamert had trouble finding running room and Sam Slavik had trouble passing in the wet weather, but Coldwater got a boost by Cory Klenke.
Lining up at quarterback, Klenke had 55 yards on his first two carries. Later, Klenke ran a little option of his own on a first-and-10 from the Blue Jay 10, scoring the tying touchdown. Mario de la Rosa booted the extra point to put Coldwater up 7-6 with 31Ú2 minutes left in the first half.
St. John's benefited from a personal foul call on the kickoff and Johnson began moving the ball again, going 44 yards on the first play of the drive. On a second-and-11 from the 15, though, Johnson tried to throw and instead, found Cavalier Adam Homan. Homan broke away and followed his blockers to perfection, putting the Cavaliers up for good with an 85-yard interception return with 1:40 left in the game.
"We moved the ball, (but) you just have to score," said St. John's coach Todd Schulte. "There was momentum-changing plays. There's more than that play in the course of the game."
After a scoreless third, St. John's got back into the game, putting together a 53-yard drive on 10 plays with Aaron Etzkorn scoring on a four-yard run to make it 13-12, following a missed PAT.
Coldwater's defense clamped down again as Josh Pax recovered a fumble on the Blue Jays' next possession, setting up the Cavaliers 23 yards away from the end zone.
Slavik, not known for his running, threw the Blue Jays a change-up, tucking the ball and scrambling down the sidelines 23 yards with 7:20 left to make it 20-12.
"That's the fastest I've ever seen Sam run," said Reed with a chuckle. "That was a wet track. Boy, he looked good. He's so composed."
Slavik was just 5-of-16 passing with an interception, but did throw for 114 yards. Harlamert, held to just eight yards rushing, had three catches for 91 yards.
"This team has a never-say-die attitude. They're not going to give in. That's all there is to it. That term (bend-not-break) is used correctly. We bend sometimes, but you're not going to get us to break. We know how to win football games. I'm don't mean that boasting, but our kids know how to win. They do the things it takes to win football games."
"(That's) a very good football team we played tonight," said Schulte of Coldwater. "We just didn't capitalize when we needed to."