FORT WAYNE – The wake-up call came obscenely early, all things considered. Thirty-one seconds in, and there was New Haven running back Airiest Vasquez, standing in the end zone.
He had just fled 67 yards down his own sideline on the second play of a Class 4A regional game Friday night at Zollner Stadium, and suddenly the Bulldogs were up a touchdown on Bishop Dwenger and looking every bit the 40-points-per-game-in-the-playoffs juggernaut they were reputed to be.
Scared me, did it scare you? Dwenger coach Chris Svarzkopf said, much later, on the far side of his Saints’ 42-7 beatdown of the Bulldogs.
A wry Svarczkopf grin.
I thought, Man, that guy’s fast.’
And, man, did the Saints respond.
When it was finished they’d scored 42 straight points, including 21 in the second quarter, to reach the semistate for the first time since their run to the state finals in 2010. And again it was a large helping of defense, with a healthy dollop of quarterback Mike Fiacable and all-purpose wonder Ryan Watercutter on the side, that got the job done.
Vasquez finished with 197 yards on 31 carries, but neither he nor New Haven (11-2) ever saw the end zone again.
The Saints’ defense, which came in having given up just 24 points in its previous four games, stopped the Bulldogs at the 36 and the 12 in the first half, then stopped them on New Haven’s first possession of the second half with a Watercutter interception in the end zone, and that was pretty much the end.
Fiacable, meanwhile, threw for 211 yards and a touchdown to Ryan Cinadr and ran for 76 yards and three more scores to send the Saints (10-3) against visiting East Chicago Central in the semistate next week.
We hung in there, Svarczkopf said. We weathered the storm. We knew they had a lot of guys playing both ways and that added a little bit to our advantage.
But the defense played well overall and came up with some big plays.
Watercutter, who set up a touchdown with a 44-yard punt return and caught six passes for 133 yards in addition to his interception, agreed.
We knew we had to shut them down, but they came out strong and they gave us all we wanted the first half, he said. But we rebounded.
And responded. After Vasquez’ opening salvo, Dwenger responded with an 8-play, 68-yard drive that Fiacable ended with a 2-yard run, and it was 7-7 with 8:43 to play in the first.
Huge, Svarczkopf said. Huge. You know you have to answer, and you have to answer every time. So I was really proud of them.
Watercutter caught three passes for 40 yards on the drive.
We always talk about responding to big plays and stuff, and our coaches always talk about that, he said. Obviously we learned well.
Not long thereafter, the Saints were off again. This time they went 79 yards in nine plays, Fiacable getting two huge chunks of it on 30- and 34-yard completions to Watercutter, then finding Cinadr from 6 yards out at 10:11 of the second.
A 10-play, 77-yard drive followed to make it 21-7, Tyler Tippmann getting the last two yards.
Watercutter’s punt return to the 20 set up one final score, Fiacable scrambling 8 yards to send the Saints to halftime with a 28-7 lead that would get no smaller.