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Romeo'ss Jason Sammut (front)catches a pass on his knees after the ball was tipped by Dakota'ss Mustafa Abdur-Rahman. (Nicholas Barry)
FOOTBALL: Dakota defense continues to shine as Cougars beat Romeo TOUT VIDEO
Dakota's offense celebrates after Daniel Crawford catches a touchdown pass in the first quarter. (Nicholas Barry)
Dakota'ss Angelo DiMaggio (13) escapes from a couple of Romeos defenders before he is brought down. (Nicholas Barry)
Romeo's Charles Roth intercepts the ball in the in endzone on Dakotas first drive of the game. (Nicholas Barry)
Many coaches would be smiling from ear to ear if their team was 3-0 to start the season.
Dakota coach Mike Giannone’s grin is halfway there as the Cougar defense has shined in their first three games, allowing nine points in the opener against Dearborn Fordson, before posting back-to-back shutouts, including Friday night’s 21-0 MAC Red Division win over host Romeo.
“The defense played well and we expected them to play well,” Giannone said. “They’re good and they were prepared. They prove it each and every week.”
The Cougar offense, though, is another story, and it’s one that Giannone is confident will improve.
“The offense needs a lot of work,” Giannone said. “We have no consistency from the top all the way down to the bottom. They haven’t proved anything to me yet, and I would hope I’m the person they want to prove it to. I just don’t see it. I see us getting a drive here and there, but we can’t sustain it, and we don’t play as a cohesive group, yet. This is three games in a row and I’m getting a little concerned.”
The Cougars did all of their damage in the second quarter, scoring all 21 of their points in the period.
Dakota scored its first touchdown on the third play of the second quarter when quarterback Tyler Crowell connected with tight end Daniel Crawford for a 14-yard score. That play capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Pasquale Madonna added the PAT and the Cougars led 7-0 with 10:23 left before halftime.
Later in the second quarter, Dakota defensive end Tony Balabani stepped in front of a Zach Rizo pass, intercepting it and racing 17 yards for a touchdown. Madonna added the PAT and the Cougars led 14-0 with 2:50 left in the period.
“Anybody who knows the game knows that Tony is a linebacker playing defensive end,” Giannone said. “He has the linebacker ability and that’s where he’ll play at the next level if he goes there. He has the quickness to rush and the ability to drop back in coverage.”
After forcing the Bulldogs to punt on their ensuing possession, Dakota took over at the Romeo 39. Five plays later, Crowell hooked up with wide receiver Brendan Mangan for a 6-yard scoring strike with 54 seconds left in the first half. Madonna added the PAT and the Cougars led 21-0 at the break.
“That was a great throw by Crowell in the corner and Mangan made a great catch,” Giannone said. “Crawford did the same thing. He has to work on his blocking and I’ve been on him about that. If he can do that, then he’ll be an all-around player.”
Romeo settled down in the second half and defensively, held the Cougars in check. Offensively, the Bulldogs mounted a drive late in the third quarter, marching from its own 20 down inside the Cougar 10-yard line. However, on second and goal, Rizo was intercepted by Balabani again, thwarting the drive.
“I think they played extremely hard,” Romeo co-coach Jason Couch said. “I think our second half was quite a step up. We played very physical. Dakota’s going home with a 21-0 victory, but physically I think they’re going to know they were in a football game. A couple big plays were very huge.
“Offensively, we didn’t put enough together in a row,” Couch added. “We got a first down on most drives, but not two or three after that. We have to work on that.”
Statistically for Dakota, Crowell completed 19-of-29 passes for 196 yards. Angelo DiMaggio had four catches for 78 yards, while Crawford had four receptions for 38 yards. Mangan added four catches for 32 yards. On the ground, Maurice Moon had 13 carries for 61 yards, while Benji Marshall added 49 yards on 13 totes, and had four receptions for 24 yards.
The win improved Dakota’s record to 2-0 in the MAC Red Division. Last week the Cougars blanked Stevenson 31-0 in the league opener. Next up for Dakota is a MAC crossover clash with visiting Port Huron Northern next Friday night.
“It’s time to slow things down a little bit and get back to the basics,” Giannone said. “We need to work on some things we’re not really good at and offensively that would be a lot. Defensively, we can also work on some things for Port Huron Northern.”
Romeo was led by Rizo, who completed 13-of-27 passes for 100 yards. He also rushed the ball 11 times for 21 yards. Lucas Schimon led the Bulldog ground attack with eight rushes for 25 yards. Jason Sammut had three receptions for 34 yards, while Mitchell Pacitti had three catches for 25 yards, and Blake Williams caught four balls for 24 yards.
Defensively, the Bulldogs were led by Charles Roth, who had two interceptions, while George Wilson recovered a fumble.
“Roth played like he’s been practicing,” Couch said. “We get our team to step up the way he’s been practicing, and good things are going to happen. He’s been very intense.”
The loss dropped Romeo’s record to 1-2 overall, 0-2 MAC Red Division. The Bulldogs travel to L’Anse Creuse North next Friday night, facing the Crusaders in a MAC crossover tilt. Couch said this will be another tough challenge for his squad.
“The schedule doesn’t get any easier,” Couch said. “L’Anse Creuse North is putting up great numbers. Some may say they’re in the MAC Blue, but they’re still 50-100 students larger than us and they don’t play like MAC Blue. They’re a (MAC) Red-quality team.”
Last Updated: 9/14/2013 12:10:48 PM EST