LOUDONVILLE – Most of this year’s Loudonville seniors were in grade school the last time the Redbirds started a football season with a win.
The Redbird defense recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown as Loudonville held off Mapleton 35-20 at Redbird Stadium Friday night.
It lifted the hosts to their first season-opening win since 2014.
“That was a big goal for us, to start the season 1-0,” Loudonville coach John Battaglia said. “It feels good and puts us in a good spot going forward.”
Senior quarterback Matt Sprang opened the scoring for the Redbirds with a minute left in the opening quarter. Sprang rushed into the endzone from two yards out after a well-sustained drive.
Sprang, an All-KMAC first-team selection last fall, completed 12-of-17 passes for 154 yards and two TDs. He also rushed for 126 yards on 24 carries, scoring one touchdown.
“He (Sprang) had some great runs out there, made some great throws and made some mistakes,” Battaglia said. “He’s the kind of kid that knows right when he makes a mistake. He’s a warrior.”
Mapleton quarterback Kollin Cline also received high praise from Battaglia.
“He’s a tough dude,” he said. “We knew it didn’t matter how much we hit him, he was going to keep running.”
Cline led Mapleton down the field to begin the second quarter and capped off the drive with a 13-yard rushing score. The Mounties were successful on the two-point conversion to take an 8-7 lead.
After a Mapleton turnover on downs, Sprang connected with senior receiver Hunter Polen for a 1-yard touchdown reception in the back right corner of the endzone to regain a 14-8 advantage.
The score was one of three Redbird touchdowns in the final five minutes of the opening half.
Senior receiver Cam Beachy was on the receiving end of Sprang’s second passing touchdown, which went down for 33 yards in the stat books. The score came with 1:41 remaining in the first half.
With only 43 seconds left in the opening half, Cline was intercepted by Loudonville junior Dilan Wade, who returned it 17 yards for a touchdown, giving the Redbirds a 21-8 lead at halftime.
Battaglia credited the defensive performance from his team as a key to their week one victory.
“I thought for the most part our defense played pretty stout,” he said. “Our linebackers were coming downhill and filling, the defensive line held its ground and our strong safeties did a pretty good job setting the edge.”
An inspired Mapleton offense took less than two minutes to find the endzone at the start of the second half as Cline hustled in for a 7-yard rushing touchdown.
“There’s no quit in this team,” Mapleton coach Matt Stafford said. “We’ve got high character kids who come out and fight. It’s all about the next play.”
Cline appeared to sustain a right-leg injury midway through the third quarter, but returned to lead the offense after the Mounties defense slowed the Redbirds to start the second half.
“It’s his senior year, he doesn’t want to come out,” Stafford said. “I love the kid, he’s a warrior. Our guys love and respect him and he’ll be ready to go next week.”
Held scoreless in the third quarter, Redbird senior Cam Beachy punched in a touchdown from a yard away, giving Loudonville a 35-14 lead with 10:57 left in the fourth quarter.
The Mounties were able to light up the scoreboard one final time via a 7-yard rush from junior Luke Pryor with 7:03 remaining in the game.
Loudonville piled up 324 yards of total offense to 313 for the Mounties. Cline completed 4-of-7 passes for 59 yards and rushed for two TDs and 125 yards on 25 carries.
Redbird senior Baylor Weiser led all receivers with 4 receptions for 67 yards.
“Hats off to those guys (Mapleton),” Battaglia said. “They run a great system over there. They break the huddle and get lined up fast.”
The Mounties finished 6-5 last season and fourth overall in the Firelands Conference.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Loudonville,” Stafford said. “They get you out of position, force you into defensive checks and they take advantage of the alignments you have to check into.”