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Caldwell escapes Waterford with a 22-19 victory

WATERFORD — Had fate went their way in last week’s Division VII, Region 15 playoff games for both Waterford and Caldwell, the two schools would have met each other in a quarterfinal playoff game Friday night.

Despite both teams being eliminated last week they indeed got to go head to head after all Friday night in Waterford with the Redskins grinding out a 22-19 victory.

Marshall Sayre’s 4-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes to play proved to be the game winner as Caldwell improved to 5-3 on the season.

“Both of these teams feel like they are playoff teams…. a lot of would haves, could haves, should haves,” said Caldwell head coach Grant Gaydos, whose team was eliminated last week by Eastern. “We knew how good they (Waterford) were and what a tough schedule they had played so this is a good win for us.”

The Wildcats played without the services of junior standout running back Holden Dailey, but that wouldn’t stop them on their opening possession of the game.

They drove 52-yards in 10 plays with quarterback Grant McCutcheon plowing into the end zone from the 1-yard line for an early 6-0 lead.

Caldwell could not muster much of an offense at all in the first 12 minutes but came to life quickly in the second quarter when sophomore quarterback Braxton Dudley fired a strike in stride to senior Brandon Piskula who outraced the Wildcat defense for an 82-yard touchdown.

Sayre ran the two-point conversion to give Caldwell an 8-6 lead.

The ‘Skins got a huge play on special teams by Piskula who blocked a Waterford punt with Caldwell recovering at the Wildcat 15-yard line.

Five plays later the visitors found the end zone once again when Dudley connected with senior receiver Skyler VanFossen on a 7-yard touchdown pass.

Once again the Redskins went for and were successful on the two-point conversion as Dudley ran around the right corner and scored untouched to give his team a 10-point lead at 16-6.

After the costly mistake on special teams the Wildcats found themselves in need of a spark and they got just that from sophomore Jake Pantelidis who scooped up the kickoff and rambled 87-yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to cut the lead to 16-12.

“We know Jake (Pantelidis) has that kind of speed and that was a big momentum turn for us,” said Waterford head coach Eric McCutcheon. “He’s just a sophomore and has learned a lot through the year and we are going to expect a lot out of him the next couple of years.”

Caldwell carried the 16-12 lead into the intermission but it wouldn’t take the green and white long to recapture the lead as they scored on their first possession of the third quarter to erase the 10-point deficit and open up a 3-point lead.

The Wildcats took 9-plays to move the ball into the redzone where McCutcheon hooked up with senior tight end Jude Huffman on a 15-yard touchdown pass to give the Wildcats the lead.

Gavin Brooker kicked the extra point and Waterford owned a 19-16 lead with 7:34 to play in the third.

Neither team could muster a first down on their next possession but Caldwell put together their best drive of the game at the most important time.

The ‘Skins took over possession of the ball at their own 36-yard line with 1:28 to play in the third period and they put together a 14-play drive that took some eight and a half minutes off the clock before Sayre scored what turned out to be the game winning touchdown with 5:08 to play.

The key play of the winning drive was a 26-yard pass from Dudley to senior Chris Hill on a third and 23 that moved the ball all the way inside the five-yard line.

Waterford still had five minutes of clock to try and retake the lead but the Redskin defense led by senior Jonah Croucher would not let the Warriors back in Caldwell territory.

Croucher came up with a pair of sacks in the closing minutes including one on McCutcheon on the final play of the game to secure the Caldwell win.

“We stuck it out and persevered and I am proud of these kids,” said Gaydos, whose team improved to 5-3 on the season. “Waterford has an awesome football team. Credit to them and credit to our guys for fighting for four quarters and making the big plays when we needed to.”

Dudley led Caldwell in rushing as he grinded out 64 yards on 23 carries while completing 4-of-7 pass attempts for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Joe Pantelidis led the home team with 41 yards rushing on 13 carries while McCutcheon connected on 9-of-14 pass attempts for 84 yards.

“We had guys banged up so we had young guys in there playing and I thought they did a whale of a job,” said Coach McCutcheon, whose team slips to 4-5 with the loss. “We battled to the end and gained a lot of experience and are very proud of the effort tonight.”

Both teams were undecided on who or if they will play next week.

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