Barking up the right tree: Bulldog football leading WCC with perfect 4-0 record
PAYNESVILLE — The old expression ‘better late than never’ could be mistaken for the Paynesville football team’s motto over the last few weeks.
The undefeated Bulldogs (4-0), ranked No. 7 in Class AA, outscored Morris/Chokio-Alberta 22-0 in the second half to rally for a 38-14 in Week 2, survived a scoreless first half in Week 3 to edge BOLD 20-18 and erupted for 24 points in the fourth quarter last week to shock Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City 32-27.
“The last three games have really come down to our performances late in the game,” said Paynesville head coach Max Meagher. “Hopefully it teaches our players to keep fighting battles no matter what the situation is.”
A big factor in the Bulldogs being to pull out those wins and remain unbeaten is the offense. Sparked by junior Matthew Quade calling the shots behind center, and junior Bryce Savage and senior Troy Spates anchoring the running game, Paynesville is averaging 36 points and 446 yards a game.
Quade has completed 47.6 percent of his passes for 837 yards — including a school-record 291-yard performance in Week 3 — and 10 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. Junior wide receiver Nicholas Dingmann has hauled 13 catches for 233 yards and a team-leading 6 TDs — 4 in Week 2 — while senior tight end Andrew Topp has a couple of TDs and leads the team with 17 catches and 332 receiving yards.
The running game has also paid in dividends for Paynesville, evident in the Bulldogs rushing for 414 yards and 6 TDs in a 54-34 win over Montevideo in the season opener. Five different players ran for a score with Grant Thompson running for 2 on just 2 carries, an 86-yard scamper and a 35-yarder.
“I think the balance of our offense is probably the greatest strength,” said Meagher. “We have gotten great play from our offensive line up to this time. We will need different athletes to step up and so far a number of kids have done the job when called upon.”
Savage has collected a pair of 100-plus-yard games and rushed for a team-high 382 yards and 2 TDs, and Spates ran for 112 yards and a score in last week’s come-from-behind win against ACGC, a preseason favorite among many to win the West Central Conference title. BOLD was also an early favorite to win the conference title, but both the Warriors and ACGC are 2-2 in the league while Paynesville sits alone on top of the standings.
“I don’t think that we feel disrespected by anyone as much as we haven’t done enough to earn the respect of others. It was very clear that BOLD and ACGC were the favorites coming into this season and that Minnewaska, who beat us twice last year, was clearly another team that would contend. We can’t be so focused on what other people think about our abilities and chances to compete. We just need to work hard to be playing our best football at the end of the year.”
Meagher also mentioned that most of his players attended five camp/practices this summer, which has helped the improvement of the skilled-position players, but “our greatest improvement has come from continued work in the weight room.”
Paynesville is on the road this Friday to face winless Yellow Medicine East, but its final three opponents — Melrose, Sauk Centre and Minnewaska — have a combined record of 8-4 through Week 4.
“The 4 wins won’t get us any points on the scoreboard on Friday night and they won’t give us any points on the scoreboard come playoff time,” said Meagher. “We are excited to be 4-0, but we very easily could be 1-3, 2-2 or 3-1 at this point. Our focus needs to be on what is ahead and not what has been done.”
Lately no one has been better than Paynesville, something the Bulldogs hope never gets old.