BROOKSIDE - After watching a 13-0 halftime lead evaporate into the humid Friday night air at Bill Jobko Stadium, a youthful Bridgeport team could've folded its tents and got ready for Week 2.
Not these Bulldogs.
Visiting Columbiana took its first, and only, lead (25-20) with 2:02 remaining. Undaunted, the Bulldogs needed less than a minute to regain the lead and hold on for a 26-25 nod on Hall of Fame Night at Perkins Field.
"This was a really big win. I couldn't be any prouder of the way those kids played ... flat out,'' Bridgeport coach Rudy Vavrock.
Trailing for the first time after Clippers freshman quarterback Mitch Davidson hooked up with Dalton Miller on a 38-yard scoring strike down the middle of the field, Bridgeport used a pair of long passes to take the lead back.
After an incompletion on first down that somehow used up 24 seconds, junior quarterback Bailey McGrath lofted the ball down the sideline for senior Colt Charlton. Despite being interfered with, Charlton came down with it at the Clippers 33.
"Practice makes perfect," Charlton said of the acrobatic catch. "Great catch by him," McGrath chimed in.
On the very next play, McGrath looked found Charlton again. This time the sure-handed receiver pulled the ball in on the sideline and was able to outmuscle a defender and break the plane of the goal for a 26-25 lead with 68 seconds remaining to play. The 2-point run failed.
"As soon as he (Colt) took the corner I knew he had the guy beat," McGrath said of the game-winner. "I just threw it up and let him be an athlete."
Columbiana, which hadn't had much success throwing the ball with the exception of the late TD pass, couldn't click on three straight throws on the final series, including an intentional grounding. A 12-yard hookup on fourth-and-20 was short of the mark as the Bulldogs held.
"It's a big win because we haven't won a season opener in a few years," Vavrock said. "So, to get a win out of the gate like this, this feels pretty good."
Bridgeport grabbed the early lead as McGrath found Carlos Kusic on a 1-yard scoring pass in the second quarter. The PAT was blocked. The scoring play capped a 14-play, 89-yard drive that ate up 5:22 of clock time.
With time winding down in the first half, freshman Emilio Saldana recovered a Clippers' fumble at the Bulldogs' 45.
On the next play, fleet-footed Jacob Ray took a handoff from McGrath on a jet sweep left. He followed some good blocking, made a cut to the outside and outran everyone to the promised land to make it 13-0 at the break.
Columbiana didn't waste any time in slicing into the deficit as it needed a mere three plays to reach the end zone.
Senior R.J. Rankin started at quarterback and ran an option, complete with a nifty cutback, for 60 yards to the Bridgeport 1. Two plays later, Nathan Miller crashed over from a yard out.
The Bulldogs responded on the ensuing series when McGrath flipped a seemingly harmless screen pass to tailback Bradley Pritchett in the left flat. A nice cutback 10 yards downfield and a strong stiff arm a few yards later left the Bridgeport junior all alone down the sideline as he completed the 73-yard scoring play.
Columbiana scored late in the third quarter when Davidson, facing a third-and-25 from his own 35, took the direct snap and scampered 65 yards to paydirt, making it 20-13. A bad snap on the PAT prevented the Clippers from drawing closer.
Six plays into the fourth quarter, Davidson, in the shotgun, picked up a bad snap and powered his way into the end zone from 6 yards out. However, once again a bad snap cost the Clippers as the count closed to 20-19.
Columbiana piled up 333 yards of total offense, with 265 coming via the ground, Bridgeport tallied 367 total yards as McGrath was 9-for-16 for 212 yards and three touchdowns, but was also picked off thrice.