The questions came like tremors and circulated throughout the locker room at halftime of the Pioneers’ critical Central League game at Springfield Friday night: Where was the blocking, and tackling? What happened to the vaunted offense? Can anyone catch a pass?
Nothing seemed to go right for Conestoga in the first two quarters. The fire that was lit at halftime caused them to play near flawless football in the second half. But the chasm was too deep, and the Pioneers suffered a 20-10 setback to Springfield under a steady downpour.
The loss dropped the Pioneers to 3-2 overall and 2-2 in the Central League. The victory is the biggest this season for Springfield, who remains undefeated at 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the Central League.
“We came out a little flat in the first half and it got us,” said Conestoga’s Andrew Destefano, who was exceptional, with four catches for 41 yards and two rushes for 15 yards. “We ran the same plays in the second half as
we did in the first half. It was a matter of execution. There’s no excuses. We weren’t doing our assignments, we weren’t blocking and tackling, we dropped passes. This hurts.”
Pioneers’ coach John Vogan isn’t ready to give up any ground just yet though.
“We’ll bounce back from this,” Vogan said. “We’re not done. I have to give my kids a lot of credit for bouncing back and playing the way they did in the second half. Because we made a ton of mistakes, I mean a ton of mistakes in the first half."
It was a game of halves. Springfield dominated the first half and went into intermission leading, 20-3, while Conestoga controlled much of the second half, frustrating Springfield’s offense with three first downs in the last two quarters.
The disparity in the way the teams played in each half was striking. Consider Springfield’s first half: The Cougars amassed 205 yards of total offense and outgained Conestoga, 205. The Pioneers had one first down before intermission—Springfield had eight. Conestoga benefitted when a punt skidded off the wet turf and bounced off the foot of a Springfield player to create its first score.
Then the second half: Vogan deservedly let his team have it at halftime—and the Pioneers responded. They instantly achieved as many first downs on their first play of the third quarter as they totaled in the first half. Conestoga quarterback Joe Viviano threw a much sharper ball, and the Pioneers drove inside the Springfield 30 on their first three series of the second half.
Meanwhile, Springfield couldn’t do anything. The Cougars had zero yards
of total offense in the second midway through the fourth quarter and their only first down—to that point—came on a penalty.
What it came down to was turnovers. Two crucial second-half interceptions by Springfield helped preserve the Cougars’ lead and kept them undefeated.
“You can’t beat a good team like Springfield without playing two goods halves—we played one,” Vogan said.
The Cougars move to 5-0 for the first time since the early-1990s. More importantly to the Springfield coaches: could they overcome their subpar second half to find a way to win? It’s what Cougars’ coach Tom Kline wanted to find out. He got his answer.