Bishop Dwenger's Chip Clark skipped toward the sideline for a timeout, waving his arms wildly, imploring the Saints' fans to make noise prior to a fourth-and-goal play that might decide their season.
“I was fired up,” Clark said. “I had a feeling we were going to go for it.”
The senior running back held up his end of the bargain. Clark's 1-yard touchdown run with 3:37 remaining lifted Bishop Dwenger to a 13-6 win over New Haven in a Class 4A sectional semifinal Friday night at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium.
“Our guys would have been disappointed if we kicked,” Saints coach Chris Svarczkopf said. “It would have been a slap in their face.”
A 42-yard catch by Griffin Eifert had helped set up John Paul Filler's 26-yard field goal that made it 6-6 with 7:04 remaining. While Svarczkopf praised the performance of his fill-in kicker, Bishop Dwenger eventually wanted more certainty than three points could offer.
“We came too far to not go for it,” Clark said. “We'd been kicking field goals all game. No doubt my guys were letting me in there.”
They did, and the Saints next face Wayne, which beat Jay County 9-6. Like Wayne, Bishop Dwenger had to rally.
Isaac Blume forced a fumble on New Haven's first drive of the second half, but, three plays after the turnover, Bishop Dwenger gave the ball right back. Tyler Wilson came up with an interception for the Bulldogs. Wilson's fellow linebacker Damario Robinson had an interception of his own to help keep New Haven ahead 6-3 entering the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs settled into a 6-3 halftime lead courtesy of Stephen Owens, who ran to the right side for a 1-yard TD with 27 seconds remaining in the half. The extra-point kick was missed.
The first score was set up by the Bulldogs failing to get off a punt in their own territory. New Haven's defense limited the damage after the turnover on downs, but Filler's 22-yard field goal put the Saints up 3-0 with 6:18 left in the first half.
The first quarter was notable only for pass defense. New Haven quarterback Tim Jordan, who entered having thrown only two interceptions all season, was picked off on back-to-back drives to start the game. Free safety Alec Watercutter caught Jordan's deep throw down the left sideline, and, next possession, Patrick Finley undercut his toss in the right flat.
Bishop Dwenger's second series ended on an interception by Zel Banks, the Bulldogs' leading receiver who also starts at corner. Banks had a 33-yard reception and an 18-yarder on a third-quarter drive that was terminated by the Saints' fourth-down stop at their own 5.
“A great defensive ballgame,” New Haven coach Jim Rowland said. “I don't think our kids have anything to hang their heads about.”