FREMONT - So far in the 2012 season, Fremont St. Joe has cleared every hurdle between it and a Midland Athletic League title. The latest hurdle came in the form of the defending league champions, and the only team still unbeaten in league play, the Hopewell-Loudon Chieftains.
The weather at Don Paul Stadium wasn't pretty and at times neither was the football, but through the pouring rain, the Streaks washed out Hopewell-Loudon 18-13.
"Hopewell-Loudon is a very good football team," St. Joe coach Scott Knisely said. "We knew coming into it, you don't look at their record being 4-2. They lost to two-state ranked teams and they're a very good football team, there's no question about that. I was very happy with the way our kids played tonight."
The numbers told one story in the game, the scoreboard told another. Fremont St. Joe dominated the first half, but had only six points to show for it. Midway through the second quarter, St. Joe had out-gained Hopewell-Loudon 185-1. However, the Streaks had a missed field goal and a pass intercepted in the end zone.
Their only points came on Zack Yeckley's 5-yard pass to Jordan Sessler, completing a drive in which St. Joe converted two fourth down plays.
"I thought we played well enough defensively," Hopewell-Loudon coach Jeremy Nutter said. "They had the football a lot, that was probably a result of our failure to achieve enough first downs. I don't think there's any shame in holding that team to 18 points. We should've probably made some more plays. Really, I felt like we were just a couple plays short overall."
The first play Hopewell-Loudon did get came from Jordan Stewart, who picked off Yeckley in the end zone to breathe new life into the Chieftains.
At that point, Hopewell-Loudon had just 1 yard of offense and no first downs, but the interception seemed to send a jolt into the Chieftain offense.
Hopewell-Loudon turned to workhorse running back Mark Bouillon to carry the team down the field, to the St. Joe 19. However, an intentional grounding call on quarterback Alec Gregg pushed the Chieftains back and a desperation pass to end the half fell incomplete.
"You got to be able to come away with points," Nutter said. "The grounding call was big obviously. Kind of kicked us out of field goal range there. I thought we put a good drive together the way we needed to. We said all along, we got to stay away from turnovers; we got to stay away from penalties. It wasn't the turnovers that got us tonight, but a few penalties did."
"I'm very impressed with the way our defense played tonight," Knisely said. "They got a very good running back, there's no question about that, a very good offensive line and we were able to stop them for most of the game defensively and I'm very pleased with that. I thought coach (Steve) Hankish had an excellent game plan going into it this week, and very happy to see it executed like that."
Hopewell-Loudon didn't get any points on its end-of-the-half drive, but it did gain momentum.
Ryan Lommerse picked off Yeckley on the first drive of the second half. The Chieftains then went on a 10-play, 50-yard drive in which Bouillon carried the ball nine times for 48 yards. The senior capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. Adam Foos knocked through the extra point to give the Chieftains a 7-6 lead.
"We finally figured a couple things out," Nutter said. "I thought we made some good adjustments; I thought we had found our stride a little bit. We felt good in the locker room at halftime. We came out and scored a touchdown in the third quarter and put us where we needed to be."
However, St. Joe wouldn't throw in the towel.
The Streaks marched right back down the field, but faced a fourth-and-10 from the Chieftain 15. Yeckley lofted a pass through the rain to a wide-open Sessler in the corner of the end zone. Despite bobbling the pass, Sessler hauled it in and St. Joe retook the lead.
"I was praying I could bring it in when Zack threw it," Sessler said. "It was floating in the air forever. It bounced off my pads. I knew I had to bring it in or I couldn't walk back to the sidelines. I just had to make a play for us."
St. Joe held H-L to a three-and-out on its next possession and then the Streaks tacked on another score when Marcus Kerr broke through the Chieftain defense for a 49-yard touchdown run.
"I didn't have to tell them anything," Knisely said when asked what he told his team when they got down. "I got strong senior leadership. We're battled tested and that's nice to say that we are, because in situations like this, it helped tonight. Kids never panicked. ... We drove down the field, scored a touchdown. Was able to stop them, get the ball back. Marcus Kerr broke off an excellent run. Great blocking on that play by everybody."
The Chieftains tacked on a late score when Gregg tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Lommerse with 21 seconds to play. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by St. Joe, ending any hope for a miracle comeback.
"Unfortunately we didn't play the ball very well in the air," Nutter said. "We knew that was a concern. We need to get better at that. And then I think on the long touchdown run we missed about five tackles. That can't happen against a good team."
Bouillon tallied 105 yards on the ground for H-L (4-3, 3-1 MAL) on 28 carries. Gregg completed 10 of 12 passes for 116 yards.
St. Joe now sits alone atop the league, 4-0 in the MAL, 6-1 overall.