By Frank Foreman
DuBois couldn’t stop the run, and Meadville couldn’t stop the pass. Turns out, the pass was much more effective Friday night.
An air assault by the Beavers took place at Bender Field last night as DuBois kept its shot at a Region 5 title alive with a 56-35 win over the Bulldogs in what began as a close game but slowly turned into a rout.
Meadville entered the contest as big underdogs, but the Bulldogs didn’t appear to be overmatched in the early stages of the game. But when push came to shove, Meadville simply had no answer for the deep ball. On more than one occasion a DuBois receiver found himself wide open behind the secondary with no place to go but the end zone.
“The quarterback threw a better ball, and they ran better routes. It’s as simple as that,” Meadville head coach Mike Feleppa said.
When it comes down to it, Feleppa was right. Solid routes by DuBois wide receivers, mixed with a talented quarterback with all the time in the world to throw the ball can be a deadly combination.
The Bulldogs found that out the hard way.
Meadville began the game on defense and quickly got off the field. Following a Bulldog possession that didn’t amount to much, the Beavers’ Bryson Paulinellie took the ensuing Meadville punt 85 yards for a touchdown to give the Beavers a quick 7-0 lead.
As deflating as the special teams highlight was for Meadville, the Bulldogs answered with a Caleb Bish 8-yard touchdown run to make it 7-6 after a bad snap on the point after kept DuBois in the lead. Bish, getting the bulk of the carries with starting fullback Ryan Harkness sidelined with an ankle injury, made the most of his opportunity, rushing for a game-high 223 yards on 37 carries.
Two plays after Bish’s score, the air attack began as DuBois quarterback Gabe French found Paulinellie wide open on a deep ball for a 69-yard touchdown pass to increase the Beavers’ lead to 14-6.
But once again, back came the Bulldogs, engineering a nine-play drive that ended with a Nathan Martin 2-yard touchdown run to tie the game after a successful 2-point conversion.
The Bulldogs had the Meadville faithful at Bender Field thinking upset, but French had other ideas. The junior quarterback drove the Beavers down the field on the following possession, passing for 76 yards on the drive that ended with a Devin Clark 1-yard touchdown run to give the lead back to DuBois at 21-14.
That drive appeared to be the beginning of the end for Meadville as on DuBois’ next possession, French found Paulinellie once again on a deep ball, this time from 38 yards out, to make it 28-14.
The Bulldog defense didn’t have much time to recover. Following a turnover on downs by Meadville, French got the Beavers deep into Meadville’s end of the field before Clark scored on a 17-yard touchdown run with 17 seconds left in the first half to make it 35-14 at the break.
“We couldn’t defend them,” Feleppa said. “It seemed like every time we crept back into the game, they pulled ahead.”
The Bulldogs had no intention on rolling over and letting the game get out of hand in the second half, as a French interception led to a Meadville drive that was capped off by Bish with a 4-yard power run for the score to cut the lead to 35-21.
And, as expected, the Beavers responded on the very next possession, as Clark scored again on a 2-yard plunge to make it 42-21.
Meadville’s best shot at a comeback came late in the third quarter, as a huge kickoff return from Derek Niemann that got the Bulldogs to the DuBois 11-yard line sparked the Meadville two plays later, when Martin scored from 8-yards out to make it 42-28.
The Bulldogs were successful on their onside kick attempt and regained possession with a chance to cut the DuBois lead to just seven points. That hope was dashed as the Beavers’ defense finally slowed down Bish to end the ensuing Meadville drive.
A pair of late interceptions by Meadville and a pair of long bomb touchdown passes from French quickly turned the outcome into a lopsided one. Niemann was able to score on a 6-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes for the Bulldogs, but it was much too late.
French threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Clark scored three rushing touchdowns for the Beavers.
Following Bish, Meadville was led by Martin on the ground with 98 yards. Martin also made a slew of open-field tackles in the secondary to save what could have been even bigger DuBois plays throughout the night.
Bish was certainly the star of the show on offensive for Meadville as his 223 yards were a product of hard-nosed running and solid offensive line play.
“The line played well. Caleb ran the ball hard, as did the other backs,” Feleppa said.
While DuBois has its sights set on the postseason, Meadville turns to next week’s showdown with Conneaut as the final game in a long season that Feleppa hopes ends on a good note.
“A win. We hope to finish out with a win,” Feleppa said. “We will keep battling and playing hard like we have all year long.”