Worth The Wait

Southwestern Opens Season With Dramatic Win

Southwestern’s Avery Cassleman breaks through the Hamburg defense on her way to a touchdown during Monday’s Division 2 South flag football game at Charles A. Lawson Field. P-J photo by Christian Storms

The Southwestern girls flag football team may have been the last team to play its first game of the season, but the Trojans made it well worth the wait.

Backed up on their own 18-yard line trailing 14-12, the Trojans had 3:28 to snatch a Division 2 South win away from Hamburg at Charles A. Lawson Field on Monday. Southwestern wasted no time for theatrics as Mallory Atwater made the drive last just one play, catching a short pass from Avery Casselman and carving through the Hamburg defense until she found open field all the way to the house for the game-winning touchdown.

“It’s awesome, the weather’s beautiful, you can’t ask for anything better,” Southwestern head coach Jake Burkholder said. “Our girls overcame a lot of stuff during this game and not having the game experience that a lot of these other teams have had to this point, they really stepped up and did some really awesome stuff.”

Erika Pickard reeled in the 2-point conversion from Atwater to increase the Trojans’ margin of victory to 19-14 as the Southwestern defense did its job shutting down the Bulldogs for the league victory.

Southwestern (1-0, 1-0) went through a rollercoaster of emotions in the second half, entering with a 6-0 lead, before watching that lead quickly disappear and then scoring twice in the final 10 minutes to get back on top.

Southwestern’s Marlana Cresanti looks for room to run after making a catch against Hamburg during Monday’s Division 2 South flag football game at Charles A. Lawson Field. P-J photo by Christian Storms

“A lot of these girls have played on the volleyball team, soccer team and some successful teams at Southwestern,” Burkholder said about the team maintaining its composure. “I think that’s just part of who they are and understanding that we’re one play away at any given moment. Just maintaining that mentality and understanding that the game is not over until the very end.”

The first half saw both teams struggle to move the ball into the red zone, but Atwater was able to break free for her first touchdown of the game on a big catch and run.

“She’s an awesome leader for us,” Burkholder said about Atwater. “She’s here giving 100% every day. She studies the game, she understands what we’re trying to do here, and she does a really good job picking up her teammates and keeping everyone on the same page. Ability-wise she is as good as anybody out there on any given day, she brings a lot to the table for us.”

Hamburg’s (0-3, 0-1) offense got rolling in the second half and quarterback Angelina Green put the Bulldogs in position to score 10 minutes into the half. Payton Ayer capped off the drive and Rachel Helffenstein’s conversion gave the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead.

Hamburg did not have to wait long for its next opportunity to score when a mishandled pass on Southwestern’s next drive went into the air and into the hands of eighth-grader Paige Garland for her second interception of the game for the Bulldogs. Garland’s return put Hamburg in prime position to score and Green punched in the touchdown for the lead. She added to it with a conversion of her own on the ground to make it 14-6.

Southwestern’s Mallory Atwater runs for a touchdown against Hamburg during Monday’s Division 2 South flag football game at Charles A. Lawson Field. P-J photo by Christian Storms

Coach Burkholder reassured his team that there was plenty of time left in the game for a comeback and Southwestern got right back to work.

After consecutive series ending in a punt for both teams, Marlana Cresanti had a long return for the Trojans that rejuvenated the team and put the pressure back on Hamburg. Casselman finished off the drive with a short touchdown run at 6:57, but a failed 2-point conversion kept the lead with Hamburg at 14-12.

“She’s a multisport kid, she’s doing a bit of everything,” Burkholder said about Cresanti. “She comes out here again, just like Mal, she gives her best every single time. She’s able to do it on offense, defense, she’s pretty shifty. She’s able to make great things happen and all these girls have great attitudes and they want to win and be competitive.”

The Bulldogs were unable to put together a response to the Southwestern touchdown and Atwater’s go-ahead score proved to be the backbreaker as the Trojans stood strong for the 20-14 victory.


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