La PORTE — In a defensive slugfest between Michigan City and La Porte, one play on offense made all the difference.
While both defenses excelled, the Wolves made the most critical offensive play early in the second quarter Friday night at rainy, cold Kiwanis Field.
Michael Bradford darted up the middle, then made a cut to the left, breaking loose 32 yards for the game's only touchdown. That gave City a 7-3 lead, an advantage their stingy defense didn't relinquish in a Duneland Conference win that spoiled the Slicers' Homecoming.
“All week I hadn't been working any at tailback, I was strictly defense this week,” Bradford said. “And I knew (coach Phil Mason) could just throw me in and he knows I'll do whatever. So he just threw me in and I saw the hole. I knew No. 54 (Ernest Frierson) made a good block for me. And that was that.”
Bradford, who played all the defensive snaps in the backfield Friday night, played just six or seven offensive plays, but made the most of them.
Quickly inserted into the contest for an offensive play with the Wolves (4-4, 3-3 DAC) trailing 3-0, he busted out for the game-changing touchdown run against La Porte (1-7, 1-5 DAC).
“We've talked about him making immediate impacts, so that was a conversation he and I had throughout the week,” City coach Phil Mason said. “So it was great to see him do that.”
The four-point margin was enough for the Wolves' stellar defense, which forced three turnovers, including safety Brian Walker's two interceptions, and limited the home team to 132 yards of total offense.
“I knew we were all clicking together,” Bradford said. “I knew they were excited and I was excited that I was starting on defense, so it was a lot of fun and very thorough.”
Linebacker Nate Ware set up Bradford's TD run after recovering a fumble on a punt, giving City ideal field position at La Porte's 37-yard line.
The Slicers, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to find a groove offensively for large portions of the game. They also didn't capitalize on a pair of turnovers in the third, on a fumble recovery, and linebacker Austin Buda's interception that he advanced just across midfield.
Not only was La Porte facing a dominating defense, it had to make up for losing starting quarterback Collin Bergquist to a left leg injury late in the first half on a rush play. He had to be helped off the field and didn’t return. Up until that point, Bergquist had rushed for 85 yards on 12 carries.
“First of all, congratulations to Michigan City,” La Porte coach Jeremy Lowery said. “They played well. They played hard. Their kids battled all night. But I can't tell you how proud I am of our guys and their battle. It's simply a game that came down to a couple plays.”
The Slicers' defense was stout as well, limiting the visitors most of the contest and keeping their team in the game.
They only allowed one first down in the opening half, on Bradford's TD run.
“Our defense played great,” Lowery said. “They had a really good player there at running back. The kid got loose on a run. We had a special teams blunder that gave them a short field. Who knows if they've got to go the distance there? Because they weren't able to go the distance all night. We made them grind.”
It was that type of night.
Both teams traded punts the majority of the second half, with neither squad able to gain traction offensively. It was the Wolves' 'D' that was just a little better, though.
“Our defense played outstanding, outstanding,” Mason said. “At times, our offense really had to grind it out and was sharp. But then, we just sputtered, whether it was a blocking mistake or a penalty. But we won a game, a rivalry game on their field, that's huge. I'm proud of our kids for that.”
After Walker's second interception quelled a Slicers' drive near midfield in the fourth, City's defense followed with two more defensive stops, both turnovers on downs, deep inside La Porte's territory to seal the victory. Cornell Branch put the exclamation point on the collective effort with a sack on fourth-and-10 in the waning seconds.
After Bergquist got knocked out of the game right before half, Jack McGuire took over as signal caller to begin the third. He played most of the second half, until Robbie Kiner saw action on the Slicers' last two series.
“It's hard at any level when you've got to dip into different quarterbacks,” Lowery said. “That's tough for anybody. You can look at the best football team out there and if they have to go to their second quarterback, they're not as good. But that's not an excuse. We've got to be better, just at everything we do.”
The Slicers moved the ball effectively on their second series after receiving the ball at their own 18-yard line. Javier Robles finished the drive with a 32-yard field goal, putting his team ahead 3-0 with 2:55 remaining in the opening quarter. That was set up by Bergquist’s 34-yard run up the gut to the Wolves’ 22.
Jonathon Flemings led Michigan City with 70 yards rushing on 23 carries. Bradford added 60 yards on six attempts, and Giovani Laurent went 4-for-11 passing for 18 yards with an interception.
Besides Bergquist, no Slicer had more than 22 yards rushing. La Porte's three quarterbacks finished a combined 1-of-7 passing for 20 yards.
Michigan City 7, La Porte 3
Brian Walker had two interceptions for the Wolves, who allowed only 132 yards of offense.