SAM FRICK: New Haven hits ground running in NE8 with dominance of DeKalb

New Haven receiver Ajani Washington lines up during August 18’s game against Northrop.

As it did elsewhere with other leagues, Week 3 kickstarted Northeast Eight play. At John Young Stadium on the campus of New Haven, the talented Bulldogs showcased just how explosive they can be in a 48-28 win over DeKalb.

Right from the opening kickoff, there were plenty of moments that could have flipped the switch to the Barons’ favor. New Haven’s Aaron Hoffer lost the football near the end zone on the kick and the Barons thought it was a fumble, but the play was ruled dead because officials said Hoffer was down.

Unfortunately, much to the theme of the whole game, DeKalb was unable to make the timely stops needed to give its offense some momentum.

On New Haven’s opening drive, Tre Bates got a huge carry to the far side for 41 yards. A few plays later, Mylan Graham looked like he was going to be taken down by a swarm of Barons, but broke a tackle, ran to the other side of the field and found open space for a terrific touchdown to give the Bulldogs the lead nearly three minutes into the contest.

However, the Barons would not take long to respond. Two plays into their opening drive, two great blocks by the offensive line led to a dynamic pitch sweep by sophomore Xavier Bell, who sprinted 84 yards down the sideline to tie the game up.

After the defense forced New Haven to punt, mistakes plagued DeKalb’s next drive as Aaden Lytle threw an interception to Calvin Dobson as Lytle was looking for his top target, senior Caden Pettis. Following a nice 24-yard reception by Ajani Washington, the Dawgs got a rushing touchdown from Bates to give New Haven a lead it would never relinquish.

Both teams would trade punts for much the remainder of the first quarter before New Haven marched down the field before the start of the second.

Just 56 seconds into the second, Audrey Anderson scored New Haven’s second rushing TD that, with a Graham two-point conversion, gave the Bulldogs a 22-7 lead.

Unfortunately for the Barons, the first half saw DeKalb chasing the lead and sustaining very little success on both the offense and defensive sides of the ball as the Bulldogs showed why they’ve dominated their opponents so far this season.

At one point in the first half, Donovan Williams connected on 15 straight completions, and that’s not including the fact that his speed wore down an exhausted DeKalb defensive unit. Williams would use that speed to connect with Graham for another score to make it 28-7 New Haven with 4:23 left in the first half.

Things continued to unravel for DeKalb before intermission when Ajani Washington recorded his first touchdown as a New Haven Bulldog from his buddy Williams.

As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Barons (2-1), starting quarterback Aaden Lytle left the game after trying to tackle James Hardy IV. It started a trend of injuries that the Barons would suffer through all night. Following another New Haven interception, Williams went back to the well connecting with Washington again for another TD.

The 42-7 advantage led to a running clock for the remainder of the game. Keep in mind that as we’re discussing this game, the Bulldogs were playing without senior starting guard and defensive tackle Mason Knoch, out with a foot injury.

One would think this game was a wrap, but DeKalb made this game a lot closer than expected. Despite a running clock and having to go to senior backup quarterback Will Weber, the Barons played inspiring football after half.

From the start of the third until the latter stages of the fourth, DeKalb had sole possession of the football. The second half began with Caiden Hinkle carrying the load on seven straight carries before a Weber pass from three yards out to Pettis for a TD on fourth down.

Special teams then came into play. On the ensuing return, Graham looked to make a play until a Baron defender stripped the ball off, with the recovery by Bowen Minehart at the 8-yard line.

Despite the running clock, DeKalb would score two touchdowns in 1:53. Hinkle’s first of two touchdowns made it a 42-21 ballgame. The Barons then executed a successful onside kick to secure possession again.

DeKalb’s drive would carry into the fourth quarter when Hinkle scored again to make it 42-28 with eight minutes left. Injuries for the Barons continued to pile up, but Pettis was able to finish the game after an initial scare following a catch in the red zone in the fourth.

The Barons miraculously recovered another onside kick as they looked to cut the deficit to a single possession. However, New Haven’s defense shut down DeKalb and forced it turn the ball over on downs with just over 5:30 left.

To put the game away, Bates scored one more time with less than 30 seconds left to ice the game earn New Haven a win to open league play.

To summarize, we learned just how deep in talent this New Haven team truly is. We know by now that Graham is a very special football player. The way he can create separation with his quickness and athletic abilities makes him so hard to defend. It’s not just the catches but also the way he moves after the catches that makes him so dangerous. Ajani Washington doesn’t always have to be the best player on the field because of Graham, but what you get with Washington is a dangerous WR2 that runs strong routes, makes big catches and on defense can use his speed to defend any receiver.

Offensively, we know that Bates is a gifted runner. But what makes New Haven so good is it’s not just the greatness of the high-profile players or quarterback Donavan Willams, who offensively was the star of this game. When you watch the Bulldogs, take a look at the other guys that make the success of the spread offense possible – Hardy IV, Korin Harris, Chris Stewart, Trey Lipscomb, Collin Wickliffe and Isaiah Faurrote, who stepped up in a huge way for the injured Knoch.

Defensively, these guys are Dawgs!! Hardy at linebacke, along with Cam York, Wickliffe, Jesus Diaz, Aaron Hoffer, Konner Clark and even Dominick Wallace. This is a team that when it is health and playing to its potential is a scary good team that is having a lot of fun.

And the way New Haven is playing, can you blame them for having fun? If it keeps this up, it might be having more fun in the coming weeks. But that’s to be determined.

As for DeKalb, it’s not all is doom and gloom. For a team that really did not make plays nearly enough, it definitely didn’t throw the white flag.

Two things stood out with DeKalb on Friday. First, the defensive line struggled. It made too many mistakes to be able to contain the explosive athleticism of New Haven’s star players. Second, while the passing attack was a major success over the first two weeks, it was not nearly as noticeable in this game. By the time Hinkle was able to find wrinkles through New Haven’s defense, it was way too late.

On the bright side, when Weber came in, not only did he found instant rhythm in the Barons’ up-tempo style, he also led DeKalb’s near rally. Coach Seth Wilcox told me before the season that the quarterback situation is one they have zero concern with as Weber is a very smart quarterback, an attribute that fans saw that in this game.

Xavier Bell was especially active for the Barons when Lytle and Pettis were unable to find mojo against the tough New Haven secondary. Pettis on defense showed some great things, especially with a big hit on Hardy earlier in the game. But at the end of the day, the concerns stated by Coach Wilcox were noticeable enough that the Bulldogs were able to successfully exploit them early and often.

One can only hope that the injuries that were noted in this game aren’t serious and DeKalb will be able to move forward into a Week 4 home game against rival East Noble. Many will ask whether Lytle will be able to play, but one thing is for sure – there’s confidence that Will Weber can at least come in as the quarterback.

For the NE8 as a whole, we saw Leo dominate Norwell, East Noble crush Huntington North and Columbia City rush all over Bellmont. Perhaps the biggest statement was New Haven flexing its muscles against DeKalb.

However, a huge game awaits the Dawgs as they travel to Leo in Week 4 in what will be one of the biggest games to watch in northeast Indiana.

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