The Bradford Owls had played their best half of football through the first 24 minutes Friday.
On defense, Bradford limited an explosive Kane offense to fewer than 100 total yards and forced an interception. On offense, the Owls snapped a nine-quarter scoreless streak and found the end zone for the first time this season.
The problem, however, was special teams.
Kane’s Jake Alcorn returned both a punt and kickoff to the house in the span of 55 seconds to give the Wolves a 33-6 halftime lead before they added two late scores to roll to a 47-6 win in a D9 Large School matchup at Parkway Field.
Not only did Alcorn’s two scores on special teams provide Kane’s (3-0, 3-0) only real offensive threat in the half, but it also killed any momentum Bradford had after its first score of the year.
Just how did Alcorn go 160 combined yards in back-to-back touches?
“Tackling,” Bradford coach Jeff Puglio said. “Plain and simple, tackling. Open field tackling is a problem for us right now.”
Tackling Alcorn specifically was an issue for the Owls (0-3, 0-3) in the early going, as the Kane senior racked up 238 all-purpose yards in just the first half.
He sat out the final 24 minutes of the game with a minor injury.
“We kind of lost him last year. He had some surgery and just wasn’t himself last year and even his personality had changed a little bit, but this year we got Jake back,” Kane coach Jim Hillman said.
“He’s flying around and making plays. What I get most excited about with him is where he would try to dance and get out of traffic he’s putting his shoulder down and sticking it to people now.”
Alcorn’s play helped to counteract what was an off night for Kane quarterback Zuke Smith. The gunslinger threw for two touchdowns (3 and 2 yards, respectively) but went just 8-for-13 in the game and never seemed to find his rhythm before getting pulled in the third quarter.
It was something Hillman noticed from his entire team in the first half.
“It didn’t feel right for whatever reason. We were a little flat when we came out, and you look at the scoreboard at the end of the half and you’re up 30 points but it’s like a morgue,” he said. “My message to the kids was, ‘what are you doing, you’re not having fun.’ (I) told them to go have fun ... but they responded and were ready to go and away we went.”
Hillman’s halftime message worked, as the Wolves quickly marched down the field behind several big runs from Teddy Race before Smith connected with Caleb Holt for a two-yard touchdown. It put the game well out of reach and also started the running clock.
The Wolves added a 31-yard rushing touchdown later in the quarter.
For the Owls, it was a familiar story of being doomed by the little things.
On Bradford’s opening drive, quarterback Caleb Nuzzo scampered for a 61-yard run to get the Owls into the Kane redzone. After a short run, Bradford fumbled on back-to-back plays, the second of which resulted in a turnover.
“That’s simple things that we go over and fundamental things,” Puglio said. “Fundamental mistakes and I’ve got to look at myself for that. If we’re having fundamental problems, what am i doing teaching-wise? We’ve got to strip it down as a staff and go back to fundamentals.”
Worse for the Owls, they were continually beat up front on both sides of the ball. The Kane pass rush made it a miserable night for Nuzzo as the senior rarely had time to set his feet in the pocket.
When he did, he delivered several nice pass, including a 73-yard completion to Dalton Dixon as well as that second quarter touchdown to Austen Davis.
“The long pass (to Dixon) we got that set up our score he checked that play at the line, he called an audible and put us in the right play and it worked out,” Puglio explained. “We have the capability of doing it and we can play with any of these teams but not if we keep beating ourselves.”
Hillman sympathizes with the Bradford coaching staff, as he had to navigate a young offensive line just a year ago en route to a 2-7 record.
“They are us last year,” he said.
But fast forward a year, and the Wolves have been a force up front.
“Both sides of the ball (up front) are so young and we’ll have all of them back again last year,” Hillman said. “But, what doesn’t surprise me is their heart. They’ve always had that. They believe in us and we believe in them, and they play inspired football.”
Kane 8 25 14 0—0
Bradford 0 6 0 0—0
First Downs: K: 14, B: 7; Rushes/Yards Rushing: K: 32-238, B: 31-99; Yards Passing: K: 78, B: 97; Comp-Att-Int: K: 8-14-1, B:8-18-0; Penalties: K: 5-30, B: 2-10; Fumbles-Lost: K: 2-1, B: 2-1; Total Yards: K: 316, B: 174; Offensive Plays: K: 45, B: 44
Passing: K: Zuke Smith 8-13-78-2-1, Morris 0-1-0-0; B: Caleb Nuzzo 8-18-97-1-0
Rushing: K: Teddy Race 11-90, Josh Buhl 4-51-1, Scott Szymanski 7-48, Jake Alcorn 7-41, Plants 2-7, Smith 1-1-1; B: Nuzzo 6-53, Troy Adkins 4-12, Austen Davis 1-11, Sunafrank 3-9, Gonzalez 6-6, Laktash 3-9, Schenfield 1 (-1)
Receiving: K: Race 2-41, Alcorn 2-37, Caleb Holt 2-7-1, Kevin Sharba 1-3-1; B: Dalton Dixon 3-74-1, Jonah Rowry 1-13, Davis 2-5, Sunafrank 2-5
K: Smith, 1-yard run (Morris run), 5:01
K: Sharba, 3-yard pass from Smith (Alcorn run), 6:12
K: Alcorn, 70-yard punt return (Hottel PAT good), 2:31
B: Davis, 7-yard pass from Nuzzo (PAT missed), 1:53
K: Alcorn, 90-yard kickoff return (Hottel PAT good), 1:36
K: Hottel, 36-yard field goal, 0:25
K: Holt, 2-yard pass from Smith (2-pt pass), 9:23
K: Buhl, 31-yard run (PAT missed), 1:28