Bears defense grinds down Giants

(Kalamazoo) – St. Joe and Kalamazoo Central are not unfamiliar opponents to start the season, the two former Big 8 Conference rivals have opened the previous three seasons against one another with the 2016 opener taking place at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

Also for the 4th straight year St. Joe has recorded a victory over the Maroon Giants to open the season.   St. Joe took advantage of four Central turnovers in a 20-9 decision at Thomas Stadium in Kalamazoo. 

The Bears have won eight straight season openers and have won nine straight games against Kalamazoo Central.

The Bears defense started the night off, securing a fumble at the Central 38 yard line.  After a nine play drive St. Joe settled for a 26 yard field goal from Antonio Buhrfiend to put the Bears up 3-0.

The next three combined drives ended in turnovers as the Maroon Giants fumbled the ball away to St. Joe, who then threw and interception on the next play.  Five plays later the Bears would intercept the ball back and drive down for another score.  Ryan Haynes found the endzone from two yards out and the Bears took a 10-0 lead.

Besides the two times St. Joe kicked off, every play in the first quarter took place on the Kalamazoo Central side of the field. 

The home team would break the shutout early in the 2nd quarter on a 26 yard field goal from Ryan Halloran to cut the lead to 10-3.

The Bears drove 80 yards in 8 plays, with much of the load carried by Haynes and scored on a 4th and goal at the 1 yard line on a run by Ethan Valdes who stretched the ball over the goal line for a 17-3 lead, which was the score at the half.

St. Joe would add onto the lead on the opening drive of the second half when Buhrfiend kicked a 21 yard field goal to make it 20-3. 

The Giants went on a 15 play, 72 yard drive and found the endzone for the first time of the season on a 1 yard dive by Archie Swindle late in the third quarter, but the point after was blocked and the Bears lead was 20-9.

The Bears then kept the Maroon Giants suddenly resurgent offense off the field as St. Joe possessed the ball for 10:02 of the final quarter, only allowing 1:58 of possession time in the final quarter as the constant running attack of Haynes and quarterback Ryan Barlow kept the chains and the clock moving.  

St. Joe improves to 1-0 on the season and will play Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (0-1) in the home opener at Dickinson Stadium on Thursday at 7:00.

Loy Norrix was a 28-6 loser to the visiting Niles Vikings in the opener for both teams.