It was “Senior Night” at Funderburg Stadium as the Bucs returned to play their last home game of the season. It could have been a melancholy affair. The parents of the seniors stood on the sidelines in a ceremony before the game began. The wind and the rain drove most of the crowd away by halftime. Instead it was a celebration for those who were left as the Bucs snapped a two game slide with a convincing win against the Guilford Vikings and a playoff game practically guaranteed.
The Bucs started with good field position. Guilford’s kick off was low and senior Ryan Vetter returned it to the 42 yard line. Belvidere’s offense went to work on the ground with solid runs by Mitch Hendrickson and Brandon Smaha. The Bucs got down to the Vikings 17 yard line. On third down with four to go, Jason Fiske was grabbed behind the line of scrimmage for a loss. Chris Barta came out to kick a field goal, but the ball fell far short of the uprights in the stiff wind. The Vikings took over at their own 20 yard line. At first, the Belvidere defense struggled, with two penalties in two plays. Guilford running back Deon Williams showed why he is the Vikings leading rusher with a 23 yard dash down the right side to get into Bucs territory. However, George Brents wasn’t as successful against the Bucs defense. Three straight handoffs to Brents gained nothing and the Vikings had to punt. The Bucs stayed with their ground game, starting at their own 15 yard line. Jacob Grose gave them some breathing room with a 12 yard rush and Jason Fiske kept the ball, rushing 17 yards and moving them up to the 44 yard line. The drive stalled at that point. The Bucs fumbled, but recovered. Jason Fiske’s first pass of the night was incomplete. They had to punt it away. The Vikings went to the air on their next possession. Quarterback Phil Adams completed a 15 yard pass to Brents to put them into Bucs territory again. Defensive lineman Jeremy Alt stepped up with a sack on Adams for a nine yard loss. While Adams was able to connect to Williams to gain it back, they couldn’t get enough yards for a first down.
Belvidere continued to stay on the ground, eating up yards and taking five minutes off the clock. They finished out the first quarter and continued their drive into the second. Brandon Smaha took a handoff up the middle for a 13 yard gain and got the Bucs to midfield. Tyler Pearse took a handoff and combined it with some fancy footwork to grab 18 yards and get the Bucs down to the 20 yard line of the Vikings. But that was as close as they were going to get. The rain began falling in earnest. Smaha was unable to gain much ground and Jason Fiske threw another incomplete pass. Chris Barta came in to try a field goal, but again the kick was no good. The Vikings went with their ground game. Williams’ first run was good for 23 yards and a first down. After that, Kelly Njos caught Williams, allowing only a one yard gain and Matt Barr tackled Adams for a loss. The Vikings went for it on fourth down and seven, but Deon Williams only managed a yard and the Bucs took over on downs. Brandon Smaha took turns with Matt Barr moving the ball up the field. The rain slowed to a drizzle and Jason Fiske was able to snap a passing drought with a short completion to Jimmy Billon. Matt Barr took a hand off and zigzagged 13 yards down to the 3 yard line. Mitch Hendrickson took it in for the touchdown. Chris Barta missed the uprights for the third time and the score was 6 – 0, Belvidere.
With less than a minute and a half left, the Bucs defense pushed Guilford backwards. Tyler Pearse had an excellent run back, getting up to the Bucs 49 yard line. Jason Fiske connected with Jimmy Billon again for a 17 yard gain and Mitch Hendrickson grabbed a Fiske pass to get down to the 18 yard line. However, the Vikings broke up the next play and time ran out in the half with the score still 6 – 0.
The Vikings started out their first drive of the third quarter with the ball on their own 43 yard line. On a second down and nine, Adams managed to connect with Will Brearly down at the Belvidere 6 yard line. Adams took the ball into the end zone himself on a two yard jump. Jason Ghinazzi’s kick was no good and the score was tied, 6 – 6. The Bucs responded with a quick dash downfield from their own 46 yard line, moving the ball 50 yards on the ground in less than two minutes. “Our plan was to keep it on the ground,” said Coach Hearn. “In the films, everyone playing them was successful running right at them.” Mitch Hendrickson ran according to plan, rushing 24 yards and following up with a 15 yard dash a couple of plays later to get it down to the four yard line. Jason Fiske handed the ball off to Matt Barr who ran around the left side for the go ahead score. Chris Barta’s kick was good and the Bucs were up by seven.
The lead didn’t last long. Phil Adams completed his longest pass of the night on first down, 45 yards, to Randy Banno at the Bucs 8 yard line. Adams found Brearly in the end zone on fourth down. Ghinazzi’s kick was good and the score was tied again.
The Bucs went back to work on the ground. Tyler Pearse got ten yards before being knocked out of bounds. Brandon Smaha gained 18 yards to get to the Vikings 34 yard line. Mitch Hendrickson finished with a 22 yards touchdown run. Chris Barta’s kick was good and the Bucs were up 20 – 13. The Vikings started deep on their own 17. Three run plays went nowhere and Kelly Njos intercepted the ball at the 28 yard line. Belvidere scored four plays later on a five yard run by Brandon Smaha. Barta’s kick was good and the Bucs were up by two touchdowns with less than eight minutes to go. The defense held tough and Guilford was unable to move the ball at all, going three and out. Tyler Pearse returned the punt to the Vikings 34 yard line. Matt Barr got the Bucs as close as the 14 yard line before the Vikings defense shut down the run. Chris Barta came in to kick a field goal. The wind picked up suddenly and the Bucs took a time out, waiting until it calmed down again. The kick was good and Belvidere was up 30 – 13 with a little more than three minutes to go. Guilford came back with a 65 yard drive, ending with a Williams 5 yard touchdown run. But it had taken too much time. The Bucs got the ball back with 1:09 left on the clock. Jason Fiske took a knee twice to end the game.
With the win, Belvidere is eligible for the playoffs. Their wins have come against teams who have combined to beat 36 other teams. These opponent wins count as “playoff points”. In years past, 34 points has been the minimum necessary to get into post season play. Belvidere travels to Rockford to take on Jefferson for the final game of the season. The J-Hawks are 2 – 6 for the season and coming off a 42 – 8 loss to Boylan. While the Bucs are confident, the defense has been practicing hard to contain Matt Herron, the leading rusher in the NIC-9. “We want to have a good game to use as a springboard into the playoffs,” said Coach Hearn. The game starts at 7:15.