SYLVANIA — Bowling Green 6-foot-1, 211-pound senior slot back and defensive end Reece Rath went down with an injury, so junior linebacker Ja’ceous Shannon and senior linebacker Peyton Harris had to step up when it counted.
Neither had played much defense this year, but Shannon went high to pick off Northview senior quarterback Boston Vargas’ two-point conversion pass into the end zone with 1:32 remaining, saving a 41-39 Bobcat victory at Cat Stadium Friday.
“I saw the quarterback’s eyes, I read it and I saw him throw it, and I had to make a play,” Shannon said. “I had to make up for a false start I had on offense a little earlier in the game when we could have sealed it, and I just had to make that play.
“Losing Reece Rath, a big part of our defense, we had to step up and take a lot more snaps,” Shannon continued. “It was tough, but we worked hard and we came out there and did everything we could. Absolutely.”
BG coach Josh Wade said there is no way the Bobcats can replace Rath, but they came about as close as they could get.
“Reece Rath is irreplaceable,” Wade said. “He’s one of the heartbeats of this team. He means a lot to us, so losing him, really we lost like three or four players, he does so much for us. I’m proud of those guys for stepping up.”
BG improves to 4-1 for the first time in three years, and the Bobcats went 2-1 in non-league games against the larger schools from the Northern Lakes League’s Buckeye Division. The Wildcats fall to 1-4.
“It’s just trying to go 1-0 every week,” Wade said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about, and I know it sounds cliché, but our kids have bought into it, Man. I’ll tell you what, we found out that we had some fight in us.”
Behind the blocking of 6-1, 219-pound junior left tackle A.J. Miller, 5-11, 302-pound junior left guard Hunter Kozlowicz, 6-1, 247-pound junior center Drew Erekson, 6-1, 261-pound senior right guard Ryan Gerwin and 6-4, 273-pound junior right tackle Navoia Ragin, five BG running backs rolled up 497 rushing yards.
Jackson Shafer, a junior slot back, ran for 180 yards on 16 carries and scored on three touchdown runs of seven, two and 67 yards.
“Shout out to Jackson Shafer because he played the whole night on offense and that was Reece’s spot,” Wade said.
“They used to split prior to tonight and Shafer had a heck of a run — he had a long run for a touchdown tonight, too. It’s next man up but you hate to see a player like Reece go down like that.”
Out of the winged-T, Harris ran for 151 yards on 22 carries, including one play where he exploded for 54 yards but did not score.
Shannon ran for 137 yards on 15 carries and scored on TD runs of 20 and four yards. Junior quarterback Jamison Horst ran for 26 yards on four carries and scored on a four-yard run.
BG scored on their first two possessions to take a 13-0 lead, but Vargas scored on a one-yard run with 4:51 remaining in the first half.
After Vargas suffered an injury, sophomore quarterback Connor Pieja connected with senior receiver Connor Cody on a 40-yard TD pass with 1:35 remaining, sending the game into intermission tied at 13-13.
For coach Wade, seeing the Wildcats bounce back was not what the doctor ordered. The Bobcats took the second half kickoff and drove 75 yards on eight plays, all on the ground, ending in a Shafer TD run.
“I felt like towards the end of the second quarter we were a little flat, and flat in the locker room,” Wade said.
“So I had a few words with the guys and I stepped out of the room and some of our leaders stepped up and got us going, and you know what, you can’t ask for anything more to come out and get a touchdown on the first drive of the second half.”
Vargas, after returning, threw a 30-yard TD pass to senior receiver Christian Berling, and senior kicker Keegan McClain’s conversion gave the Wildcats their first and only lead, 20-19, less than four minutes into the second half.
The Bobcats put together a seven-play, 76-yard drive resulting in a Horst TD run, forced a punt, and then Harris ran for 38 yards on the first play from scrimmage and Shannon broke two tackles to score from four yards out, giving BG a two-possession lead, 35-20, after Shannon scored on a two-point conversion run.
The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs their next possession, but Northview senior linebacker Vincent Kuhlman recovered a BG fumble, and the Wildcats drove 47 yards on 10 plays with sophomore back Quinton Wilson scoring from two yards out, taking it back to a one-possesion game, 35-27, with 10:10 remaining.
Northview forced a BG punt, and Vargas threw a 44-yard TD pass to Cody, but Harris knocked down Vargas’ pass on the conversion attempt, which would have tied the game. Instead BG led 35-33 with 4:58 remaining.
One play after the kickoff, Shafer broke lose on his long TD run, but the Bobcats’ conversion failed, keeping it a one-possesssion game at 41-33.
Northview put together a 10-play, 62-yard drive with Vargas involved in every play, either running the ball or passing, and he scored the final TD from three yards out with 1:32 remaining, setting up Shannon’s game-saving interception on the point after touchdown pass.
Wade was not happy pleased with BG’s inability to keep Vargas contained. He ran for 61 yards on 16 carries but threw for 267 yards, completing 18-of-28 passes, and he was on the run when he completed most of his passes.
“He can run the ball,” Harris said. “I was just trying to watch his hips to see where he was going. Every time he tried to cut, I’m just following him and watching the cutback lanes.”
Vargas got most of his yardage after playing through an injury suffered in the first half.
“He took a shot,” Northview coach Greg Silm said. “His ankle was bothering him and he found a way to come back on the field and make some plays for us.
“I mean, he made a lot of big plays for us. He’s a tough kid and he wants to be on that field and wants to play every second he can. I’m proud of him and how much he’s grown and the strides he’s making. Having him as our quarterback right now is a nice thing.”
Silm liked the fight he saw in his players, even after they got down by two touchdowns on two occasions.
“I’m proud of them. I mean, they fought,” Silm said. “They got down 13-0 right away, and then we got down two scores in the second half, and they battled, Man.
“They fought and that is all I can ask of them. Unfortunately, we were a play short, but we have to learn from it and get onto next week. But I am proud of the fight they showed because that just shows a lot about their character.”
Wade added that for anybody who thought BG was going to win easy, think again.
“Northview is a good team,” Wade said. “I think sometimes when you’re playing pretty decent teams, we forget how well-rounded the NLL is. The coach does a good job, and I know they have a couple guys down, but at the end of the day it’s the NLL and there is no easy game.
“I think I’ve said that since the day I’ve gotten here. Tonight showed there is truth to that. You look at records, and say, ‘Oh, it should have gone one way.’ No, it’s the NLL, and it’s going to be a dogfight to the end.
“Obviously, if I’m going to nitpick, I wouldn’t want to give up as many points. You want to close the door on a team when you feel like you have them on the ropes.
“But at the end of the day, if you were going to tell me two years ago, ‘Coach, we’ll be 4-1 and took a 41-39 victory,’ I’d have said, ‘Heck yes.’ We want to enjoy tonight but we have to get ready for (hosting) Clay (next Friday) tomorrow.”