BANDON — It was an inauspicious start for the Bandon Tigers on homecoming night, but it was a celebratory finish.
The visiting Toledo Boomers scored two touchdowns before Bandon’s offense ever had a chance, but the Tigers picked off prolific Boomers passer Jaxon Rozewski three times, erasing a 14-0 deficit and turning it into a 34-28 win Thursday.
“It feels so fantabulous,” Wyatt Dyer said. “We couldn’t be happier. The whole team played great. To have it on homecoming, it’s just so much more exciting.”
As Bandon builds under second-year coach Aaron Freitag, it needed a win like this. Toledo’s offense is as explosive through the air as any the Tigers have seen or will see, and its quick-strike gameplan was difficult for the Tigers to stop for stretches.
But the Bandon defense adjusted, and though Rozewski threw for more than 300 yards, it was the three interceptions that ultimately sunk the Boomers and lifted the Tigers.
“They’re playing just the way I always envisioned before I got a coaching job,” Aaron Freitag said. “That’s how I want to play.”
The most important interception was the first.
Toward the end of the second quarter, with Toledo holding a 10-point lead at 22-12, Rozewski got flushed from the pocket and looked for Kody Howry, but Dyer stepped in front and with one hand plucked the pass out of the air and sprinted to the pylon for a 36-yard interception return touchdown, cutting the Boomers lead to two at 22-20.
It didn’t spark the comeback or finish it, but it was the emotional swing that Bandon needed to grab momentum for the second half.
“It was a pretty good challenge, but we just stuck to our tasks,” Dyer said of the defensive performance. “We did our jobs and we got it done.”
Toledo got the ball first and the combination of Rozewski and Cameron Lonergan was nearly unstoppable.
The pair connected on numerous quick slants with the Tigers defensive backs playing off the line of scrimmage, and Toledo took those easy yards. It opened up the deep passing game, and Rozewski hit Lonergan on a 44-yard corner route to open the scoring.
Then Toledo executed an onside kick, with James Werder coming up with the ball to keep Bandon’s offense from attempting to even the score. Again, Toledo went to its quick-strike game, and it eventually led to a 1-yard plunge from Howry, Toledo’s only rushing touchdown of the night, for its 14-0 lead just two minutes into the contest.
But the young Tigers came right back, scoring on their first possession when Reef Berry weaved in for a 12-yard score with 5:39 remaining in the opening quarter.
The scoring halted until the beginning of the second quarter when Bandon scored on five plays, capped by a Dyer 12-yard touchdown on a simple power play to cut Toldeo’s lead to 14-12.
On Toledo’s ensuing drive, Lonergan caught a little crosser and made for the goal line. He never quite got there, though, and fumbled into the end zone. A mad scramble ensued and Toledo came up with the ball in the end zone for an unlikely touchdown that appeared to demonstrate it was Toledo’s night with a 22-12 lead.
Bandon punted away, giving Toledo a chance to score before half and take a bigger lead and all the momentum into locker room.
But then Dyer one-handed his interception, and Bandon rolled into the half with momentum and belief.
Cayton Sinay took the first handoff of the second half and went 65 yards nearly untouched to give Bandon its first lead of the night at 26-22, which it never relented.
Bandon had a great chance to extend the lead several minutes later when Braydon Freitag picked off Rozewski and returned it to the Boomers 1 yard line, but the Tigers were turned away on downs.
After forcing a punt, though, Bandon took the great field position from the short kick and scored in three plays, Berry adding his second 12-yard score of the night for a 34-22 lead with 4:18 left in the third quarter.
Toledo responded on its next drive, with Rozewski hitting Lonergan for a 10-yard comebacker touchdown to cut Bandon’s lead to 34-28.
Bandon’s offense did enough in the fourth quarter, with Freitag finding Coby Smith for some crucial first downs to keep Toledo’s offense off the field.
The Boomers got one final crack with 1:46 left but had to go 90 yards. Bandon came up with its sixth sack of the night on Toledo’s third play of the drive, forcing a Boomers timeout. Then after an 11-yard completion from Rozewski to Lonergan — the latter caught 15 of Rozewski’s 26 completions for 220 of his 304 yards — it set up a third and 2.
But Toledo, trying to go fast, snapped the ball just as the referee whistled the play live and it confused everyone on the field. Bandon’s defenders, though, realized the play was live quicker than the Toledo offensive line and Tyler Tullos got to Rozewski, who wasn’t moving and nearly knocked the ball away.
It set up a fourth and long and Rozewski tried to hit Lonergan on a go route up the Bandon sideline, but the Tigers secondary swarmed and clinched the win. It was fitting that Bandon’s defense made the play at the end of the game to seal the win, as its defense consistently made the plays to win it in the middle.
“It’s just one step further, that’s all it is,” Aaron Freitag said. “My goal is playoffs. Ultimate goal is (a) championship. We got a young squad yet, and they gotta see these things — success. Things I’ve been preaching to ‘em all week and before the game.”
A loss likely would have ended Bandon's hopes of finishing first or second in the league and earning an automatic spot in the Class 2A playoffs. Now, with games against Reedsport and Gold Beach remaining, the Tigers (1-1) have a renewed shot at a second straight postseason berth.
Bandon visits Reedsport next Friday. Toledo (2-1) has its bye in the league schedule, facing Glide, before a trip to Coquille in the regular-season finale when the Boomers will try to force a tie for the league title.