At least one of the teams played like a top-ranked team.
Bishop Dwenger used two blocked punts, six turnovers on defense and four touchdowns from senior Jermarkis Willis to win the delayed battle of No. 1s on Saturday, 38-13 over Harding.
The visiting Saints (2-0) are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A, while the Hawks (1-1) are tops in 2A. But only Dwenger showed it on a still-muddy field. The game was pushed back a day after Friday’s rain and lightning caused the anticipated matchup to get almost 24 hours of more anticipation.
Any suspense, though, was quickly extinguished by the Saints, who jumped out to a 24-0 lead.
“That was brought up quite often,” Dwenger linebacker Mick Mentzer said of the battle of two top-ranked teams.
“We had to come out and show the city what we are about.”
Mentzer made his return to the field for the Saints after missing the season-opening win against Concordia while still recovering from a preseason hamstring injury.
“(The Hawks) are so athletic, big and physical,” the Indiana recruit said. “We knew we had to come out hard and pound them because if we didn’t, they could get up and win. Last night it got delayed, and we weren’t too happy about that. We were ready to get out here and get a win.”
It didn’t hurt the motivation for the Saints playing No. 1 and defending 2A state champion Harding.
“They were state champions, and we knew they were going to be ready,” Dwenger senior Greg Svarczkopf, the coach’s son, said. “We knew beating them would mean a lot. We hope we made a statement.”
Dwenger got two blocked punts in the first half, one from Steve Seculoff and another from Svarczkopf, to help the Saints build a 31-6 lead at halftime.
“We knew going into the game it would be a big advantage, and we took a lot of extra time there,” Svarczkopf said of special teams. “We got lucky and blocked a couple of punts, and we had some good efforts from the whole team. But special teams were a big difference for us.”
The Hawks were also hurt by an onside kick that caromed off a player and was recovered by Dwenger’s Matt Eppard late in the second quarter.
“We stunk on special teams, there’s no doubt about it,” Harding coach Sherwood Haydock said. “But in the overall concept, it wouldn’t have made a difference. It just so happens that it let the game get out of hand early.”
Harding also lost three fumbles and had three passes intercepted.
Willis, who ran for only 62 yards, was the benefactor of some great early field position for the Saints as he scored on runs of 2, 1, 2 and 22 yards.
Roderick Smith led the Hawks with two touchdown runs.
“We were facing a very good team, and we are still facing a lot of situational problems with people missing practices for various reasons, and we haven’t gotten a chance to jell yet,” Haydock said. “We knew this one was going to be a difficult one to win even if we were at our very best. I think we are about two weeks away from being at our best.”
Harding’s chances at defending its 2A state title took a blow when fullback Deangelo Stevenson suffered a season-ending knee injury after an 11-yard run midway through the second quarter. Stevenson, known as “granddad” to his teammates, was heading to the end zone when his left leg got stuck in the mud as he was tackled near the goal line.
Haydock said Stevenson suffered a severe knee injury.
“He is a big part of our team,” Haydock said. “He already had tears in his eyes, but not because of the pain but because he knew it was over. He knows it is not about a single game anymore, but it is about his whole career. That’s tough, but that’s part of the game.”