The first football game of the season is always a highly-anticipated one.
Make it a local rivalry and fans will flood the stadium to cheer on their teams, which is just what happened last night at Kocher Field as the Richmond Blue Devils hosted crosstown foe, St. Clair.
Richmond came out ready to play – and to prove a point: the Blue Devils aren’t to be taken lightly this fall.
“There’s been some talk around the communities that we graduated a pretty good senior class last year and this and that,” head coach Sean Misko said, “so a lot of our boys took that to heart and they wanted to come out here and prove themselves and show that they're a team that’s ready to compete and play some tough football teams.”
“Extra bulletin board material,” as Misko called preseason polls and interviews, only motivated his players more, and it showed in the first quarter.
The Blue Devils scored twice in the first 10 minutes under the leadership of sophomore quarterback Anthony Bonnetti (5-11 pass attempts, 72 yards) and senior running back Blake Esselink who totalled 70 yards on the ground.
After a 45-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Luke Pastuschyn, Richmond had finally broken into Saints territory.
And with 7:39 left in the first, Bonnetti carried the ball seven yards into the end zone for the first touchdown.
Four minutes later, he made his way across the line again from 20 yards out, putting his team ahead 14-0 after senior Drew Matyunas kicked the two extra points.
“It feels good, it feels real good to be making a statement,” Bonnetti said. “It’s going to be a good season, it’s a great start.”
“We put him in halfway through the season last year as a freshman,” Misko said of Bonnetti. “The main reason we made that transition last season was because we anticipated this season coming up and that's paying big, big dividends because he’s matured quite a bit.”
Those two touchdowns, however, would be the only ones of the game as the season’s first contest soon turned into a defensive battle.
“It means everything. Offense can win games, defense wins championships,” Richmond sophomore Gavin Frick said. “You've got to keep composure. See ball, hit ball.”
Which is exactly what he did as a key component of the Blue Devil defense with three tackles, two assists, and one sack. Junior Joey Simmons added two tackles, six assists, and three tackles for loss; senior Kyle Bartolomucci recorded three tackles, three assists, and one sack; and senior Noah Harris had four tackles and two assists.
“We had a little weak second half, running the clock down,” Bonnetti said, "but we played good football. Our defense was phenomenal, Frick was unbelievable.”
On the opposite side of Frick and the Blue Devils stood St. Clair sophomore quarterback Peyton Ellis, who’s taking over from his brother, Luke Ellis, who graduated last year.
“It’s a pretty big moment for me,” Ellis said. “I never really imagined taking over my brother's spot, but I like it.”
It took a while to gain momentum, but by the second half, the Saints made several marches down field. Ellis threw 7-for-18 with 65 yards while running for 35.
“I feel like I was able to see more holes in there,” Ellis said. “They were just blitzing us all over so I had to look more. They were attacking us from everywhere and I had to figure out what to do.”
And that often meant looking to his other brother, Logan Ellis, the Saints senior running back who totalled 79 yards on the ground and 16 in the air to lead the team offensively.
“We’re really young, just some growing pains right now. Overall, we’ve got to work on a couple things here and there, nothing major...but we didn’t give up, we kept fighting,” assistant coach T.J. Schindler said. “Our defense saved our butt and kept us in the game. The defense didn’t give up at all, so that’s defintiely something we can hang our hats on.”
The Saints were led defensively by junior William Schroeder who recorded four tackles, two assists, and one tackle for loss, and Logan Ellis and sophomore Matt Farrow each recorded three tackles as well.
St. Clair will have one more game to prepare before diving into conference play against Marine City on Sept. 9. The Saints will play their home opener against Warren Lincoln on Thursday, Sept. 1.
As for Richmond, conference play is less than a week away now as the Croswell-Lexington Pioneers will come to town on Thursday, Sept. 1.
“We had a rough loss to them,” Bonnetti said of last year’s matchup with Cros-Lex. “It was my first start and looking to get some revenge on them.”