BALTIC — The turn off Lovely Avenue toward the street that snakes along Baltic’s football field, appropriately named Bulldog Avenue, is a spectacle when there’s a game in town.
Tuesday night’s Class 9AA playoff opener between Baltic and Arlington/Lake Preston certainly had a postseason atmosphere.
Cramped parking lot. Packed stands. Loud cheers from the crowd. Festive scenes at halftime, like a gang of children hanging off of the team’s mascot while trying to procure more candy from the beast.
It’s the type of scene you expect to see in a game of its magnitude, which made it all the more for the Baltic faithful, because they’ve been without a playoff win since 1982.
Baltic ended that 33-year drought Tuesday, defeating Arlington/Lake Preston 40-8 and controlling the Badgers from the outset with big plays in all three phases. The Bulldogs scored on the ground, through the air, had a pick six on defense and punched back from the Badgers’ lone score with a 93-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff.
It was an emphatic start to the playoffs for Baltic (7-2).
“When we found out we were going to be able to host a game that was just huge for these kids and the community,” said Coach Jason Aberson. “It’s like I told the kids before, ‘You look outside there. They’re here to watch you play. Because you guys brought the excitement.’”
Early on the excitement came in the form of big plays. Senior running back Sam Clark ripped off a 77-yard touchdown on the second play of scrimmage. Chaden Roggow blocked an Arlington/Lake Preston punt on the next possession to set up a short field, and junior Kadin Wolff finished off with a touchdown run of his own.
When the Badgers answered back with a score and two-point conversion with 15 seconds left in the opening quarter, Reese Warne returned the kickoff 93 yards for a score. Wolff, who finished with 13 carries for a 109 yards, added a 23-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and the Bulldogs led 26-8 at halftime.
Maintaining the same pace in the second half came with more ease than the Bulldogs have been used to in prior seasons.
“This year for once, when you see our offense come off the field we can bring four or five new guys in,” Aberson said. ““We’re fresh. We’re lucky that way. We have that chance. In the past, many times in the fourth quarter, we’d get tired. And we’re seeing that against other teams that we’re playing this year. They hang with us, but in the second half they kind of get tired. We kind of wear them down with our style.”
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Clark finished with eight carries for 136 yards, while junior receiver Joe Hoiland became a popular target for Jon Wilhelmsen. The sophomore signal caller finished 6-for-8 passing for 59 yards, and Hoiland pulled down five of those for 59 yards and a 21-yard touchdown, which he ripped away from the defender as they hit the ground.
Wolff also returned an interception 47 yard for a score in the fourth quarter.
Arlington/Lake Preston, playing without standout Luke Weber for the third game straight, ends its season at 4-5.
“Make no bones about it, we miss him, but that’s no excuse,” Arlington/Lake Preston coach Steve Gilbertson said. “This Baltic team is a pretty good ball club and they sure were better than us tonight.”
Baltic High School doesn’t have an official name for its field.
The school’s athletic director, Steve Gunderson, didn’t make much of it when asked during Tuesday’s Class 9AA opener. Bulldogs Field is sort of the unofficial moniker.
To the north is Lovely Avenue, while Bulldog Avenue snakes along the school to the south.