PAWLING – All-time NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbar once noted, “You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.” Jabbar was not only referring to the importance of losing with grace …
PAWLING – All-time NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbar once noted, “You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.” Jabbar was not only referring to the importance of losing with grace and class, but he also meant that losing was the best vehicle for learning how to win.
For the Sullivan West Bulldogs who marshaled a dominating third quarter 8-6 go-ahead drive that had culminated in a touchdown against the talented Pawling Tigers, the subsequent reversal of fortune that saw Pawling go on to win the game 20-8 was disconcerting to say the least. Be that as it may, the fact that the season begins with non-league games affords a window of opportunity for players and coaches alike to assess what works and what doesn’t with no impact on the eventual standings. That learning curve is there to solidify things for the league gauntlet that looms ahead. Teams that lose in the regular season often go on to win the title.
Cases in point: Tri-Valley’s lone loss to Pawling in 2019 reminded the Bears of their vulnerabilities and prepared them for their title victory over Pine Plains. Last year Spackenkill lost to Sullivan West in the season opener only to vanquish the Bulldogs in the title game. If Pawling and Sullivan West win their respective divisions, yesterday’s fray turn out to be just a preamble to the Championship clash. Sullivan West knocked Pawling out of the playoffs last October and the Tigers and their coaches were clearly in revenge mode in this non-league rematch. Hard feelings from that fray were clearly still in evidence demonstrated by an end of game outburst from Tigers’ coach Jason Kulhmann directed at the Bulldog staff. Accepting losses is part of the game and indeed, of life itself, no matter how one perceives the events that led up to defeat, winners and survivors move on. As the time-tested adage informs: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
Sullivan West’s potential upset of Pawling offered exemplars of the team’s toughness and grit. Defensively, the Bulldogs played a crisp, tough game, holding explosive Pawling scoreless in the first quarter and yielding only a lone TD on a perfect pass from QB Brett Clowry to Freddy Heymach with 9:14 remaining in the half. Staunch defense stymied the conversion and Pawling took a 6-0 lead into the break.
Offensively, the Bulldogs struggled in the first half. QB Jaymes Buddenhagen found himself sacked with startling regularity as his receivers were covered and the pass defense proved inadequate against the Tiger’s blitz. Pawling had watched the film of SW’s win over Pine Plains, and they were clearly ready to key on Rally Cruz who had an epic game against the Bombers last week. Both teams were hard-hitting, and the game had the intensity of a playoff encounter. The Bulldogs who had won the toss and had elected to defer to the second half, used the third quarter to reverse the game’s polarity.
Finding their running game with Cruz, Buddenhagen and Andrew Hubert, the Dawgs began their drive on their own 40 after a fine Cruz runback on the opening kickoff. Cruz kept the drive alive with a first down. Then a Pawling personal foul advanced it to the Tigers’ 23. A Buddenhagen keeper ferreted the ball to the one-yard line. Pawling stopped the next two plays, but Buddenhagen carried the ball to the goal line where he was brought down as he fumbled it into the endzone. Officials ruled he was not down by contact, and Andrew Hubert recovered it. After officials conferred, a touchdown was signaled. Buddenhagen crashed through the line for the conversion and with 7:25 remaining the Dawgs took an 8-6 lead which held up into the fourth quarter.
A timely interception by Andrew Hubert gave SW the ball at their 45 with 10:55 left in the game. After a Pawling encroachment, SW faced a crucial fourth and one at the Tiger’s 36. Despite their effectiveness running it up the middle, they opted for a pitch play which was smothered. Had that drive continued, the outcome might have very well been different. Play calling is a fine art and one that is constantly in need of being refined.
Hindsight is 20-20. Foresight is far more valuable. Pawling went to the air using the connection between Clowry and Haymach. But an incomplete pass brought up a fourth and 11 at the Dawgs 24. One more stop was needed but instead Clowry scampered along the sideline to the ten before he was finally chased down by Adam Ernst. Speaking of Ernst, it should be noted that he did a good job defending Haymach, including a leaping breakup of a pass in the first half. Clowry connected with Haymach on an 11-yard TD pass with 5:22 to go to give Pawling a 12-8 lead.
On the subsequent drive, a long Buddenhagen run was called back on a chop block penalty. Suffice it to say, the Bulldog coaches were miffed about this call and a host of others. The drive stalled and Pawling got another score and conversion with 1:03 remaining. Pawling improved to 2-0, while Sullivan West fell to 1-1.
SW offensive coordinator Justin Diehl commented: “I feel that we played a tough game. The offense struggled against their defense which isn’t something that we’re generally accustomed to. They played physical ball and so did we. I thought our defense played a great game but the offense not being able to win the time of possession eventually wore our defense down and cost us the game.” The Tigers have a bye week coming up as SW travels to Eldred for their first league fray. Eldred (1-0) beat Onteora 30-28.
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