By Steve Eldridge
CONSTANTINE — On a beautiful day for a high school football playoff game, Constantine did not disappoint, as the Falcons hung on to eke out a 21-14 win against the visiting Buchanan Bucks. The victory gave Constantine the Division 6 district championship.
“You couldn’t have asked for better weather,” Falcons coach Shawn Griffith said. “Both teams came out to play today, and we just beat a well-coached and improving Buchanan team.”
The past two seasons, Constantine had reached the district finals, but losses in both games ended the Falcons playoff hopes.
Constantine got on the scoreboard first, with Bennett VandenBerg plowing his way into the endzone from 5 yards out. The Bucks tied the game at 7 when quarterback Jake Franklin hit Nico Finn with a 14-yard pass, good for a Bucks touchdown. Neither team could find the endzone in the second quarter, until the Falcons, facing a fourth down from the Buchanan 1-yard line, put the ball into the hands of Brody Jones. He took it in for the score with two ticks left on the clock, and after a successful point after kick, Constantine held a 14-7 lead at the half.
The third quarter was a scoreless affair, as both teams failed to dent the endzone. The Bucks tried to shake things up a bit, as they recovered an onside kick at the 48-yard line to start things off, but they failed to gain a first down. The Falcons took over, and on a third-and-five, fumbled the ball back to Buchanan. Josh Outlaw came up with a big third down sack, forcing yet another Bucks punt. Constantine kept the ball on the ground but couldn’t convert for a first down. After another three-and-out by Buchanan, the Falcons got another chance with :09 to go, but the quarter came to an end before they could get anything going.
Early in the final period, Constantine was facing a fourth and 4 from the 41-yard line, but the Bucks committed a very costly five-yard penalty, giving Constantine a first down from the Buchanan 36-yard line. Brendan Presswood then proceeded to take a handoff and race into the endzone for the score. The extra point kick was good, and the Falcons had a seemingly safe 21-7 lead with 9:14 left in the game. Buchanan received the ensuing kickoff, and after three plays, faced a fourth-and-ten situation. Choosing to go for it, Franklin found Finn open, and 70 yards later, the Bucks had their second TD of the game, which closed the gap to 21-14.
Another onside kick by Buchanan failed, and with 8:37 to go in the game, Constantine took over possession. The Buck’s defense held, and the Falcons, facing a fourth-and-11, had to punt the ball away. A holding penalty on the return pushed the ball back to the 10-yard line, and with 4:54 left in the fourth quarter, Buchanan was down to one last drive to tie or win the game.
The Bucks managed to get the ball down to the Constantine 38-yard line with less than a minute to go, and after no gains on second and third down, faced a fourth-and-ten situation. A last gasp pass was batted away by Rushawn James, the Falcons had held, and ran the clock out to secure the victory, 21-14.
“We had a few mistakes defensively that we don’t like to make,” Griffith said. “But our long scoring drives were methodical, and we were able to keep their offense off the field. I thought our defense was solid all day, and the kids came up with some nice plays, but a couple of big plays did hurt.”
The Constantine defensive effort was led by Caleb Bontrager, as he came up with several key stops. The offense was business as usual, grinding out 234 yards on 50 carries. VandenBerg led the charge with 121 yards on 26 carries, followed by Presswood with 75 yards, James with 27, and Isaac Moore with 11 Yards in the winning effort.
The win moves the Falcons into a Region 3 matchup with Ovid-Elsie, who advanced by beating Lansing Catholic Central, 42-13. The Marauders have won four straight games entering the regional finals. The game will be played in Constantine on Saturday, and kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.