Conant begins new, winning, foundation
Conant's football team literally cemented it first victory since 2015 by placing a cinderblock on a barren platform located in the corner of the fieldhouse.
Conant had waited nearly two full years since their previous victory, and this long-awaited win didn't come easily Friday night.
Conant topped Bartlett 17-2 in a rematch of last season's opener. In doing so, the Cougars snapped a 12-game losing streak that dated back to October of 2015.
Conant hadn't achieved much success on the gridiron recently, but coach Bryan Stortz said the team's success off the football field contributed to the victory in his debut with the program.
"Well these kids have been competing all summer long," Stortz said. "So they've experienced winning and losing for an entire summer. They've had successes in other sports here that they've done a great job in. So they do have some experience with that."
Conant scored 17 points on its first three drives Friday night after totaling 17 points in just one game throughout the entire 2016 season.
Conant's first drive might have gone as well as Stortz could have scripted it. The Cougars marched 69 yards in only eight plays and got on the scoreboard courtesy of a 25-yard scamper by two-way star Jack Reiger.
Conant immediately got back to work in more deliberate fashion after the ensuing Bartlett drive stalled out. The Cougars made it all the way down to Bartlett's 10-yard line before settling for a 30-yard field goal from Jessica Smeltzer, who also converted two PATs Friday night.
The Cougars received a bit of help on their third drive and started with the ball on Bartlett's 25 after an errant snap sailed over the head of Hawks punter Mark Repiscak. Conant made quick work with the gift, scoring in four plays on Reiger's second touchdown run of the night from 4 yards out.
Quarterback Matt Majer was sharp running the offense early, with a few miscues sprinkled in between. Bartlett got back into the game when an errant snap whizzed past Majer's helmet and led to a safety. Stortz was most impressed with the senior's poise.
"He was calm the entire game and that's one major thing that I think some quarterbacks are not able to manage all that with a lot of hostile things going on," Stortz said. "He did manage his emotions and that's a big part of being a quarterback."
Bartlett returned only two starters from last season's team and that inexperience plagued them Friday night. The Hawks were flagged for eight infractions and made a fair share of physical mistakes, too.
Bartlett had a chance to go into the half with some momentum after three personal foul penalties on the Cougars gave the Hawks an untimed down from Conant's 11-yard line. A well-thrown pass from quarterback Dean Kotsovetis was hauled in at first by his intended target, but was broken up brilliantly by defender David Zdzichowski to keep the deficit at 17 entering the intermission.
The Hawks started the opening drive of the third quarter at midfield as a result of the prior penalties to close the first half, but squandered the opportunity. The drive began with a 4-yard loss on a run by tailback Jack Allen. Then a delay of game set Bartlett up with a second-and-19 from its own 41. A sack pushed the Hawks back to their own 31-yard line and an incompletion on third-and-29 forced a punt.
Conant's defense was up to the task in limiting Bartlett's running game and forcing the Hawks to air it out. Lead tailback Joey Allen rushed for 29 yards on 12 carries and Kotsovetis was forced to throw 22 times during the second half.
Conant's losing skid is officially over and the cinderblock stationed in the field house represents that. But Stortz isn't satisfied with just ending a drought.
"To me, (that was) not even in our thought process about losing streaks or anything like that. That (was) never even anything we ever talked about. We talked about the here and now and what we need to do to get better. Even when we win, we're going to try and find things to improve on.
"It was important to see an unbelievable effort from our kids. And I think that we saw that tonight. And that's the first thing that needs to happen."