COLUMBUS GROVE – By early second quarter in Thursday’s football season opener, Columbus Grove had jumped out to a 20-0 lead over Pandora-Gilboa.
But Pandora-Gilboa wasn’t going to let the game slip away quite that easily.
The Rockets climbed right back in to make it a game.
However, Columbus Grove managed to stave off P-G in the second half for a thrilling 34-23 victory at Clymer Stadium.
“For us, one of the keys to the game, is that we had a 16-play (scoring) drive to finish the third quarter; and that really just sealed the deal,” Columbus Grove head football coach Andy Schafer said. “That was huge for our line and our offense to come up with that drive.”
Pandora-Gilboa responded from its sluggish start, and eventually cut the deficit to 20-9.
However, Columbus Grove running back Trenton Barraza gave his team some breathing room.
With 3:01 left to play in the first half, Barraza broke loose for an 84-yard touchdown run to push his team’s lead to 27-9 by the halftime break. Barraza rushed for 129 yards on six carries in the first half. He ended the night with 177 yards on 19 carries.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rockets could not slow down the potent Columbus Grove offensive unit, early on, as the Bulldogs rolled up 254 total yards in the first half. However, P-G’s defense tightened up as it held the Bulldogs to 102 second-half yards.
Columbus Grove’s offense did not take long to get revved up.
The Bulldogs hit paydirt on its second possession of the game. Columbus Grove capped off a 10-play, 61-yard scoring drive with a 3-yard TD run by Barraza.
The Bulldogs scored again in the first quarter. Running back AJ Schafer capped off a quick 4-play, 80-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard scamper to the end zone. The big play of that scoring drive was a screen pass from quarterback Brenton Renner (6 of 15 passing for 143 yards) to Lawson Maag, in which Maag ran for 74 yards. That play put the ball on P-G’s 6-yard line, and set up the TD by Schafer.
Columbus Grove’s defense kept the pressure on P-G quarterback Carson Meyer. Just seconds into the second quarter, Meyer threw a short pass into tight coverage, and Landen Schroeder picked it off and ran it back 27 yards for the touchdown. With a missed extra point, the Bulldogs led 20-0.
P-G finally got on the scoreboard with 7:10 left to play in the half with a safety on botched snap on a punt. The Bulldogs led 20-2.
Meyer ended the night, completing 22 of 37 passes for 236 yards. However, Meyer was intercepted three times. Aidan Morris threw an interception for the Rockets on a halfback pass play.
The Bulldog’s secondary had three interceptions in the first half.
“Defensively, I thought our kids really played well,” Schafer said. “I was saying before the game that I really thought our secondary was going to get challenged; and they were. Pandora’s receivers are really, really good.”
Grove scored again in the fourth quarter to round out its scoring.
With 7:46 left to play in the contest, Landen Schroeder ran it in from two yards out for the TD. With the extra point by Shep Halker, the Bulldogs led 34-16. P-G added a TD with 35 seconds remaining in the game.
Ethan Luginbill ran it in from two yards out. On the night, Luginbill rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, with three touchdowns.
For the game, Columbus Grove was whistled for 10 penalties for 83 yards.
“You kind of expect it (penalties) the first week. … Just like you expect the cramps, unfortunately,” Schafer said. “Both teams were doing it (cramping up). I think that hurt the momentum. … The momentum was really swinging in Pandora’s way. When they started cramping up, I think it hurt them.”
—By Mark Altstaetter, [email protected]
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.