SHEFFIELD – John Guilford is making this whole blocking punts thing look really, really easy.
Black River’s junior defensive end was at it again Friday – twice – as the Pirates romped to a 41-12 victory over Brookside in Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division play.
Don’t look now, but the Pirates are atop the division after Wellington crushed Buckeye.
The 6-foot-4 Guilford blocked Robert Taw’s kick to swing momentum Black River’s way in the first half, then finished off Brookside with another stuff midway through the third quarter.
For those counting at home, that’s seven blocked kicks or punts this season.
“It was really fun,” said Guilford, who also recovered a fumble on defense. “We were very dominant on defense. Except for one play, we were unstoppable.”
So, too, was Guilford whenever Brookside lined up to punt.
The Cardinals, who had a bad long snap turn into Austin Jones creaming Taw for a 15-yard loss in the first quarter, quickly got down 13-0, but cut the deficit to 13-6 in the second quarter on a brilliant 59-yard option keeper by quarterback Josh Bender.
Looking to take the lead later in the period, Brookside stalled and Taw was forced to punt.
That’s when Guilford took over.
After beating his man, the long-armed Guilford laid out and stuffed Taw. Talon Wood picked up the loose ball and rumbled to the 9-yard line, paving the way for Matt Joppeck (19 carries, 106 yards, three TDs) to bowl in two plays later to put Black River up 20-6 at halftime.
“The only thing I think about is just getting in there as quick as possible,” Guilford said. “I try not to hit anybody and hopefully I get to him.”
An interception by the Pirates’ Nick Morrow set up a 13-yard TD by Jake O’Connor on third-and-long to start the third quarter.
Guilford then added his second block of the night – this time after Taw bobbled another errant snap – and O’Connor weaved in for another TD.
Black River fans witnessed a first-team defense that has allowed just one touchdown in its last three games.
Led by Jones, who unloaded on Brookside’s Josh Zenkert on a kickoff return, the Pirates allowed just 31 yards in the second half.
“We knew this was a must-win game and we came out and got it done,” Jones said. “We’re just smelling blood and we want to win. We want that PAC (title) bad.”
It was a night to forget for the Cardinals, who were riding high after a 3-3 start to the season that could have easily been 4-2 or 5-1.
The final tally had two blocked punts, a failed fourth-down conversion, two interceptions and three lost fumbles.
Although Black River scored all of its points off a combination of those miscues, second-year Brookside coach Keenan Leichty refused to call it a fluke.
“We didn’t play real well,” he said. “Our special teams broke down early, which got them momentum and put us in a hole early. It kind of landslided for us throughout the whole game.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.