It took a while for Oneida to get its offense rolling in its Region 2-2A opener against Wartburg on Friday.
But once the Indians got rolling, there was no stopping them, as the Bulldogs watched their hosts reel off 39 unanswered points to stage a 46-6 victory.
Wartburg quarterback Josh Moore looked for a while as though he might single-handedly will his team to a monumental upset victory. But Oneida found the spark it needed in the second half, shutting down a Bulldog offense that had been tough to stop in the first half and turning a 13-6 halftime lead into the 40-point victory.
“I had a feeling it was going to happen,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said of his team’s slow start. “We had a pep rally today and all that stuff. We read the newspapers a little too much and all that stuff. We were just flat. But I give Coach Human and his players and staff a lot of credit. They fought us tooth and toenail for two quarters.”
If not for two huge plays, Oneida might have actually trailed at halftime. The first was a 78-yard fumble return by Johnny Manis that gave the Indians a 7-0 lead. Then, when the Bulldogs answered to trim the lead to one, Bryson Buttram broke off a 62-yard touchdown run to give the Indians a 13-6 lead that would stand until the start of the second half.
Prior to that, Oneida had the ball in Wartburg territory twice, only to come up empty. The first possession saw a third-and-short turn into a punting situation when a fumbled snap set the Indians back. The second possession saw a long run that pushed the ball into scoring position called back by an officials’ blown call. The Indians were flagged for an illegal formation despite clearly having seven men on the line of scrimmage. Lambert used a time out to challenge the call, but failed to win his case with the referee. Two plays later, the Indians were forced to punt again.
From that point, Moore had his team driving deep into Oneida territory. Mixing the run and the pass beautifully, Wartburg moved inside the 30, looking to take an early second quarter lead. Moore appeared to convert a fourth down with a quarterback draw, but the ball popped free near the end of the play.
As one official spotted the end of the run, Manis scooped up the loose ball and turned to hand it to another official. When that official declined to accept the ball, Manis realized the play was still live, turned and raced 78 yards for a touchdown as Wartburg defenders watched and its coaches protested.
“You gotta play to the whistle,” Lambert said. “Johnny Manis did what you’re supposed to do. He headed down the sideline and had a little convoy down through there. You gotta play to the whistle and there was no whistle.”
Moore and the Bulldogs responded quickly, however, and got on the board with a 15-yard Moore-to-Caleb McCarty touchdown pass on fourth down.
The momentum wouldn’t last long for Wartburg. Buttram, who preserved the early lead by breaking up the Bulldogs’ two-point-conversion pass attempt, hurdled a defender near the line of scrimmage and raced 62 yards for a touchdown, giving his team a 13-6 lead after a failed extra point attempt.
Buttram finished the game with 134 yards on 10 carries and now has 453 yards and seven touchdowns through the first three games of the season.
If it was fair to say that reversing two big plays could’ve given Wartburg the lead at halftime, it was also fair to say that there was no question which was the better team as the third quarter began.
In fact, the Indians made it look easy out of the locker room in the second half, gashing a winded Wartburg defense with their rushing attack. Oneida finished with 298 yards on the ground, just missing a 300-yard rushing game for a third consecutive week.
Buttram scored his second touchdown of the night, a one-yard plunge, to get the third quarter scoring started, after getting tripped up just short of the goal line on a 25-yard run.
Two minutes later, the Indians were in the end zone again, as Kolby Morgan scored on a six-yard run.
Still later in the third quarter, Matt Hood scored on a seven-yard run.
The fourth quarter saw the Indians’ reserves put two scores on the board. The first was a 25-yard run by Wyatt Cox, the second a three-yard run by Jacob Warmoth.
“We came out and played in the second half,” Lambert said.
Asked about halftime adjustments, Lambert said he and his staff didn’t have to do anything dramatic to push their players’ buttons.
“We just loved on them,” he said. “And boy what an effort in the second half. But we told our kids, we can’t keep just being a second half football team. There are going to be nights where you can’t win by just playing in the second half. We know that.”
The win may have been costly for the Indians. Senior cornerback Ben Lambert left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. His father said the injury would be evaluated over the weekend to check for possible ligament damage. Hood, another senior, left the game in the second half after aggravating a hamstring injury. His status was not immediately certain.