Cody Klossowski and the Ithaca Bulldogs managed to get the last laugh – somehow – Saturday.
Klossowski raced 70 yards on a dramatic fourth-and-one play for what proved to be the winning touchdown as the Bulldogs edged the Southern Door Eagles, 26-22, at Ithaca Saturday afternoon.
The non-conference win kept coach Chad Clary’s Bulldogs undefeated at 5-0 while Southern Door slipped to 3-2. The much anticipated matinee had fans staking out seats on the bleachers more than two hours before kickoff on a sunny, mild late summer afternoon.
Klossowski, the Bulldogs’ senior running back and cornerback, scored two touchdowns, and Ross Ghastin and Luke Oelke each had one for Ithaca. Quarterback Joey Clary threw two touchdown passes in addition to running for a two-point conversion.
Troy Jandrin and Derik LeCaptain ran for touchdowns, and Nick LeCaptain hit Mitch Gerend for another for Southern Door. Andrew Montana kicked a field goal but made only one of three conversion attempts.
“It was a great game and a great win for our program,” said coach Clary. “There were plays made on both sides of the ball. I feel that every one of our kids made a big play. It was an outstanding high school football game and a great one to be a part of.”
Clary said his team demonstrated perseverance. Unlike the Bulldogs’ four previous wins that were lopsided, Ithaca never led until Klossowski’s run with 3:44 left in the fourth quarter. “We kept stumbling,” Clary said of his club’s five turnovers, “yet we remained determined and finally overcame them.”
The contest pitted Ithaca against a school three times its size with arguably its most formidable football opponent.
Klossowski epitomized the game’s highs and lows. While he scored twice, rushed for a game high 165 yards on 18 carries, caught four passes for 35 more yards, and was big part of the Bulldogs’ defensive effort that limited Gerend to only three receptions, he fumbled three times and fell on Gerend’s touchdown catch.
“He had a tough day, just like the entire team, but he didn’t get down,” coach Clary said.
Ithaca’s first fumble led to Southern Door’s early lead. On a fourth-and-one play, Jandrin raced 31 yards for a touchdown, and Montana’s kick gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 3:08 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs suffered a major loss when senior end/defensive back Nolan Clary was injured. X-rays after the game determined a broken bone and he was scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery Tuesday, according to coach Clary, his uncle. It was the second loss in two games for the Bulldogs’ receiving corps. Caleb Olson suffered a sprained ankle a week ago and was limited to the role of long snapper against Southern Door.
The injury meant larger roles for Oelke and sophomore Caden Moser.
Not only turnovers but penalties were instrumental. Each team had touchdowns called back. Late in the second quarter, Southern Door reached the Ithaca one-yard line. The Eagles were penalized on first down to the six. After pass break ups by Oelke and Moser, the Eagles settled for 23-yard field goal from Montana with 3:36 left.
Holding the Eagles to a field goal was important, according to coach Clary.
“I felt our defense gained a lot of confidence when we stopped them and held them to three points then,” coach Clary said.
Ithaca quickly struck back. A long run by Klossowski and a penalty enabled Ithaca to threaten. On third down from the 13, Joey Clary threw a scoring pass to Klossowski. Clary’s keeper pulled Ithaca within 10-8 with 43.9 seconds left until halftime.
It proved more than enough time for Southern Door to retaliate. LeCaptain hit Gerend on a 56-yard scoring pass with 15.7 seconds left, but Montana’s kick was wide. Southern Door held a 16-8 halftime lead.
Defensive end Jacob Huebsch intercepted LeCaptain’s pass early in the third quarter to regain Ithaca’s momentum. Three plays later, Ghastin scored on a four-yard run with 9:01 left. The Bulldogs’ bid to tie the game with a two-point conversion fell incomplete.
Southern Door answered quickly. Derik LeCaptain raced 40 yards, but Montana’s kick was wide again so Southern Door had a 22-14 lead.
Ithaca answered with 7:01 left in the quarter. Clary threw a 65-yard scoring pass to Oelke. Again the Bulldogs’ bid for a two-point conversion failed.
The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out and took over at Southern Door’s 43. The drive bogged down at the Eagles’ 10. Josiah Jongquist’s field goal attempt hit the upright.
Ithaca quickly stopped Southern Door again. After a punt the Bulldogs took over at the Eagles’ 33, but were denied when Gerend intercepted Joey Clary’s pass early in the fourth quarter.
Devin George’s amazing pick stopped another Ithaca drive. Ithaca’s defense led by Brandon Fowell, Wyatt Gundlach and Ghastin forced the Eagles to punt. With 7:27 left, the Eagles’ punt rolled to the Ithaca seven. Three runs gave Ithaca a first down. Three more left the Bulldogs with fourth-and-one at their own 30.
Clary handed to Klossowski who found a gaping hole created by Fowell, Austin Kast and Dawson Durst. Klossowski won the foot race to the house, but the Bulldogs bid for two came up short with 3:52 left.
There was more than enough time Southern Door’s quick-strike attack, but defensive coordinator Jim Harris strategy to double team Gerend. Harris said the key was his defense’s ability to contain the Eagles’ ground game. There were no slip-ups either against the run or the pass. Huebsch recovered a fumble at Southern Door’s 40. When two runs stuffed, coach Clary dared to win and son Joey flipped a pass to Austin Kast for the first down to seal the win.
“It was one of the best passes he has thrown,” said the coach. “They had good coverage on Austin, and he made a great catch.”
Joey Clary finished with 13 of 21 passing for 174 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. While Klossowski led Ithaca to 239 yards on the ground, Ghastin gained 48 on 14 carries and Dischler gained 39 yards in nine attempts. Oelke caught five passes for 127 yards and Kast three for 23.
Derik LeCaptain carried 10 times for 70 yards, but the Eagles only netted 75 yards on the ground. Nick LeCaptain hit on seven of 18 passes for 101 yards and one pick. Gerend caught three for 80 yards.
“Now we have to come back down earth,” coach Clary said. “That win was a good one, but we’ve got a big game this week with Kickapoo/La Farge. They’ve given us trouble in the past. They’re well coached and they have a tendency to improve greatly during the course of the season. Besides, it’s homecoming so there will be some distractions.”
Unlike Ithaca homecoming battles over the years, kickoff Friday night will be at 7 p.m. instead of Saturday afternoon. (The homecoming parade and many other school fair activities will be Saturday.)