It came down to, as expected, a game of who could do the little things, a scenario where Bishop Dwenger wins far more often than it doesn’t.
That adage still applied Friday as the Saints turned a three-point halftime deficit into yet another sectional title, beating North Side 20-12.
“I think that is just the hallmark of the type of kids we have,” Bishop Dwenger coach Jason Garrett said. “They are poised. They have been in those games that give them the confidence that even when there are mistakes, they stay together.”
The first half energy, even in a low-scoring affair, certainly went with the Legends. They used bigger plays, had moments of flash and the energy to match.
North Side built off that energy by forcing back-to-back Saint turnovers to start the game. Bishop Dwenger threatened from the get-go but Brenden Lytle’s pass to the end zone with 9:38 left in the opening quarter was picked off by Arieon McCarter.
Three minutes later and another Bishop Dwenger possession saw KJ Tippmann not be able to handle the pitch from Lytle and North Side recovered the fumble.
“Credit to North Side, they just throw out different defenses,” Lytle said. “We kind of knew how to game plan but it was still hard. Coach said we were going to get all kinds of different looks.”
That turnover led not to another quick out for the Legends, but to a North Side scoring strike. Duce Taylor found Jordan Turner cutting to the middle with 3:45 to play in the opening quarter; with Turner stretching out to reach the goal line on the 16-yard touchdown.
It didn’t take long for Joe Bulanda to strike back for Bishop Dwenger. Less than a minute into the second quarter, he drilled a 30-yard field goal to put the Saints on the scoreboard. Bulanda would miss a 31 yarder in the closing seconds of the first half due to a bad handling of the snap. That field goal would have led to a tie ballgame at the break.
Dwenger did have its chances in that second quarter. With 7:35 left before half, Taylor reached out on a keeper at the goal line that was fumbled and ultimately recovered by Gavin Groves of the Saints. Despite the turnoer, Bishop Dwenger struggled to move the ball.
The second half was a completely different story. Bishop Dwenger’s offensive line gave Lytle more time to make decisions and he made the most of it from the opening whistle of the third quarter and further on.
“We had to talk a little bit about where they were aligning more than anything. You try to prepare as best you can,” Garrett said. “It was a great adjustment, found some things that were working in the run game…the dive was working in there. And Brenden just did a great job overcoming early adversity and leading us in the second half.
“It just came down to little things. Picking up a block, picking up the linebacker. They did that tonight and it showed,” Lytle said of his offensive line.
Less than a minute into the second half, Lytle threw a bomb on first down to Henry O’Keefe that got the Saints down to the five-yard line. Three plays later, Lytle punched it in on a quarterback keeper.
That wouldn’t be the only time that Lytle took to the ground. With 2:33 to play in the third, he weaved through the North Side defense and back up the left side of the field on a 33-touchdown run. Just like that, the Saints were in control, up 17-6.
“It kind of just slowed down more for me,” Lytle said. “That one to Henry…I missed him the first time, but that second time…never miss twice.”
Lytle finished with 81 yards rushing on 11 attempts to go with his 153 passing yards on 11 of 18 passing.
“You can’t put it into words. He’s a three year starter, he’s been in all those big games and he has carried us through,” Garrett said of Lytle. “You put that with some grit and moxie, right? He’s a competitor. And he’s turning into a fabulous leader; he is taking control, he is keeping us right when things don’t go our way and I am just so proud of him.”
Bishop Dwenger’s defense also continued its uptick in the second half and it made it difficult for Taylor to get settled in with his receiving corps. The Legends were dead to rights on a drive near midfield in the third quarter before Taylor escaped a sack and shuffled a short pass off to Rodney Woods, who rolled down the field 53 yards before being pushed out of bounds. Ja’suan Lambert would convert a two-yard rushing touchdown less than a minute later.
Both defenses would make plays down the stretch. The Saints were stopped on third down with 2:50 left when Lytle’s end zone look to Rocco Ciocca was broken up by Dominick Malone. That incompletion led to Bulanda putting up his second field goal of the night, this one from 27 yards out.
North Side however, could not answer in two final drives. The first saw Turner complete a reception on a quick out route, only to have the ball stripped by Adam Lee, a fumble which the Saints recovered.
One final North Side opportunity saw Devon Tippmann, club wrapped broken hand and all, intercept Taylor with 32.3 seconds remaining.
The Saints are now 27 time sectional champions, winning in each of the last four seasons.
“It’s just a blessing. Playing for Bishop Dwenger, there is nothing better,” Lytle said. “Playing with my seniors, I couldn’t ask for a better group to play with. We’ve been playing since we were in eighth grade, since we were kids. It just means a lot playing with these guys.”
KJ Tippmann led the Bishop Dwenger offense next to Lytle; he ran 24 times for 112 yards. In the loss, Taylor had another solid game, completing 20 of 35 passes for 254 yard,s with 101 of those going to Turner. McCarter had 12 tackles for the Legends to go with his interception.