SILVER CREEK - As his Maple Grove Red Dragons whooped and hollered off the field in celebration of their victory over Silver Creek in the 2012 edition of the "Grape Bowl," Coach Curt Fischer stopped at midfield, cocked his head and smiled.
"Ground and pound baby," he said. "Ground and pound."
In other words, these aren't the Red Dragons you're used to.
Maple Grove’s Oliver Simpson rushed for 215 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdowns in the Red Dragons’ 23-14 Class D football win at Silver Creek. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J?photos by Rob Tucker
Maple Grove quarterback Aaron Germain fires a pass to a teammate Saturday at Silver Creek. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Relying almost exclusively on the rushing attack, Maple Grove wore down their Class D foes from northern Chautauqua County, racking up 232 yards on 33 carries to transform what had been an 8-7 deficit at half into a 23-14 victory.
The bulk of those carries (30 of 33) went to one player: senior running back Oliver Simpson, who, despite his smallish frame - he's 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds - proved he could deliver some punishing blows between the tackles.
Simpson gained 215 yards and scored a pair of crucial second-half touchdowns.
"He's good, isn't he?" Fischer asked rhetorically before adding, "I thought Oliver was outstanding tonight. I mean, he can run outside, but the thing is he can run inside, too. He's a threat. He doesn't look big in stature, but he can run the football hard."
The senior was slow to get going, running for just 25 yards on seven carries in the opening period and another 25 yards for most of the second. But he seemed to grow stronger with each touch, and finally got going on what was the final play of the second quarter, breaking at least five tackles and gaining 50 yards - he was taken down less than a yard from the end zone - as time expired.
Though he didn't score on the play, it was a key moment for both coach and runner.
"I think (that last run before the half) put a jolt in him," Fischer said.
The play also showed Fischer a way to attack the Silver Creek defense.
"What we tried to do (in the second half) was adjust their defense," he explained. "We went to an even set so we wouldn't declare power. We ran a lot more counters because they were running to the football right away (overpursuing) and then we tried to cut back on them. That was what we call our 'counter trey' and it was a pretty good play for us in the second half."
Maple Grove used that play with great success to start the third quarter, as Simpson capped a six-play, 54-yard drive with an 11-yard run to the front pylon of the end zone to put his squad ahead, following kicker Erik Olson's extra point, 14-8.
The Red Dragons would never trail again.
Following a pair of three-and-outs for both teams, Silver Creek regained possession at its own 26-yard line late in the third quarter. Driving, the Black Knights made two first downs to reach midfield, but on the very next play quarterback Nick Iskra, who was making his first start at the position, lofted a deep pass down the right sideline that cornerback Aaron Germain hauled down and carried 52 yards back into Silver Creek territory. Three plays later and the left-footed Olson hit the 32-yard field goal to push the advantage to nine, 17-8, with just a quarter remaining.
It was Iskra's second interception of the game - he also was picked off in his own territory in the second quarter by Gram Nelson, who read screen the entire way and stepped in front of Iskra's pass in the backfield - but it was Silver Creek coach Sean Helmer who took the blame.
"I thought (Iskra) played well," Helmer said of his quarterback, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown. "He really only had one bad throw, but I put him in a bad spot because I ran the same pass combination (twice in a row). The corner (Germain) made a great play."
Silver Creek's best drive came early in the fourth, when it went 83 yards on 11 plays to pull within three, 17-14, with just over seven minutes remaining. Zeddie Williams, who earlier in the drive had burst around the corner for 52 yards, tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to teammate Anthony Morales.
In addition to his touchdown pass, Williams totalled 95 rushing yards on 12 carries and 25 receiving yards on a pair of catches.
But Maple Grove, with Simpson ripping off yards in five- and seven-yard chunks, came back with an equally solid drive, eating over five minutes before Simpson ducked across the goal line for the winning margin, 23-14.
"I think they pushed us around towards the end," Helmer said. "I think we were gassed a little bit."
NOTES: Maple Grove quarterback Germain scored the game's first touchdown, following the Nelson interception, with a 4-yard keeper. ... Jake Swan and Dalton Bolles (one sack) led the Red Dragon defense with eight tackles apiece. ... Simpson was named the Maple Grove "Grape Bowl" offensive player of the game and Germain the defensive player of the game. ... Winning those offensive and defensive awards for Silver Creek were wideout Zach Klisiewicz (three receptions, 59 yards and a 30-yard touchdown catch), and Zeddie Williams.
Maple Grove0 7 10 7 - 23
Silver Creek0 8 0 6 - 14
MG - Germain 4 run (Olson kick).
SC - Klisiewicz 30 pass from Iskra (Z.Williams run).
MG - Simpson 11 run (Olson kick).
MG - Olson 32 kick.
SC - Morales 6 pass from Z.Williams (pass failed).
MG - Simpson 5 run (kick failed).