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Bulldogs hold off Marlington for second straight season
September 4, 2019

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When Poland's football team kicked off last season at Marlington, it built a nice lead then had to fight off a late Dukes' comeback to win 17-14.

Those same two schools started the 2019 season last Thursday in Poland and had similar results. The Bulldogs held a two touchdown advantage then had to stave off a fourth quarter Marlington charge to escape with a 24-23 triumph. The win not only gave Poland six in its past eight games against the Dukes, but also got the local kids off on the right foot as they attempt to avenge a playoff-less season from a year ago.

Things went pretty slowly over the first 24 minutes of this season opener. The visitors came into Dave Pavlansky Field and kicked a field goal for the only points of the first half. Down 3-0 entering the third quarter, the Bulldogs must have finally realized the new season had started as they began to establish themselves. Senior Jake Rutana completed Poland's first scoring drive of the season with a 3-yard touchdown run to give Poland a 7-3 lead. Senior Mike Kushner kicked a 20-yard field goal to stretch that lead to 10-3. Later in the third, junior quarterback Brody Todd took the ball across the goal line from 1-yard out to put Poland up by two scores. That 17-point Poland explosion was made possible by two quick three and outs by the Dukes' offense and one lost fumble.

Marlington would score its first touchdown of the new season to make the score 17-10. The Bulldogs would answer that tally with another of their own as Rutana scored his second touchdown on the night. That 6-yard run gave Poland a 24-10 lead early in the fourth period. That's when Marlington attempted to do exactly what it did in last year's game, but this time with a different outcome. A Dukes' score cut Poland's lead to 24-17 with a little more than five minutes left in the game. After that touchdown, Marlington attempted something tricky. With the backing of his players, Marlington head coach Mark Gulling decided to try an onside kick. That decision paid off handsomely as the Dukes' recovered on Poland's side of the 50-yard line. A few minutes later, Marlington made it 24-23 on a 14-yard touchdown run by Anthony Sabatino. That led to another tough choice for Marlington's main man. Coach Gulling elected to try for a two-point conversion to take the lead instead of potentially tying the score with an extra point. A successful conversion would have given his team the one-point advantage with 1:22 left in the contest. This time, the Dukes' gamble did not pay off. Six foot four senior safety Blake Wilson picked off Marlington's pass in the end zone preserving Poland's first win of 2019.

Rutana led the Bulldogs in carries with 12 as he amassed 82 yards and those two touchdowns. Fellow senior back Josh Alessi had one last carry for a team high 90 yards.

Poland hopes to carry the momentum of its opening win into Week 2 when it hosts crosstown rival Boardman. The Spartans were smothered by Erie McDowell in their first game 41-7. They played that game with a bevy of underclassmen due to injuries and other absences of their more established starters. Aside from a couple scrimmages, the Bulldogs and Spartans have been relative strangers on the gridiron lately. The last regular season match between the two bordering suburban schools was in 2014. Poland won that game in overtime by a narrow 10-7 margin. If you take into account what happened in each squad's season openers, an extra session field goal may not be needed for Poland to come away from the contest with a 2-0 record.

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