The Pymatuning Lakers had no answer for the Berkshire potent ground attack and smothering defense as the Badgers coasted to a 34-14 opening victory at William A. Reed Field.
In the process, the Badgers’ rookie head coach, 23-year-old Alan Vanderink, got his first head-coaching win.
“It was a good team effort and this may be my first win but it is about the kids,” an estatic Vanderink said. “We had a good game plan, and good senior leadership. Whe knew (PV’s Quintin Ratliff) was a dynamic player. We wanted to make sure we kept him inside (the tackles). We did a good job of tackling him and hitting him.
“We controlled the game on offense and the line of scrimmage. That was the most positive part.”
Senior tailback Jason Kaser was specatcular as he rushed for 172 yards on 21 carries with touchdown runs of 13, 1 and 4, as the team outgained PV, 304-118, on the ground.
Kaser’s teammate sophomore, Ben Blechschmid, carried 10 times for 84 yards. Quarterback Erick Burzanko added two touchdowns runs of his own of 1 and 22 yards on six carries for 40 yards.
Berkshire led 7-0 after a quarter as they went a staggering 15-plays ,95. This was after P.V.’s punter and quarterback Quintin Ratliff kicked the ball 60 yards and added to that a Berkshire penalty. Kaser’s dive of one and Ian Patterson’s PAT came with :33 left in the first stanza.
The Badgersthen added two more scores after a PV fumble near midfield, Berkshire capped a 4-play, 48 yard drive, with Kaser getting a pitch from Burzanko on the option as he scooted 13 yards for his second score. With 4:21 left before half, it took just five plays for the Badgers to go 33 yards after the Lakers relinquished on downs after Ratliff (20 rushes, 73 yards) was sacked for 12-yard loss.
In the third quarter, after Burzanko intercepted a pass and returned 49 yards, he sneaked in from the 1 to up it to 28-0 with 4:38 remaining.
The Lakers finally broke through with 39 seconds left in the third on Ratliff’s 1-yard run. The teams traded TDs in the final period. Ratliff (12-25 passing, 169 yards, 2 interceptions) connected with Cody Ellis for a 21-yard score while with 4:24 left. Burzanko moved to tailback and took a handoff from Gordy Cossick, and went 22 yards to the end zone for the Badgers.
For PV third-year head coach Neal Croston, the key this year is to play four quarters and finish strong, something the Lakers did not do in their three losses a year ago. He was disappointed.
“They were more physical than us in the first half,” he said. “It didn’t matter if whe ran or passed. We spotted a team too many and it was tough for us to come back.
“We turned the ball over and you can’t do that against a ball-control team. On first and second downs, we gave them 5 to 7 yards.
“You just cannot do that.”
Hall is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.