Raiders pounce yet again with big-play flairSeptember 28, 2013
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
HUNTINGBURG — It’s coming.
You may not know from who. Or where. Or when. But at some point, almost inevitably, Southridge is going to bust out its big-play wizardry.
It’s happened all year. And Friday at Raider Field, it help tilt a skirmish between frontrunning Pocket Athletic Conference foes toward Southridge’s favor on a night when the Raiders and Marksmen alternated turns exchanging big-play uppercuts. Class 2A No. 9 Southridge cemented a 24-21 win thanks to a grinding ground game in the contest’s latter stages. It was effective, sure. But what transpired before that was a whole lot more electrifying — and it’s come to define the Raiders as a team that can punch up its methodical approach with devastatingly quick strikes.
More often than not, they come from Connor Craig, who’s faster than you, shiftier than you and can concoct something out of nothing. Twice in the first half, the Raiders erased Tell City leads on Luke Stetter-to-Craig connections. The second one — a highlight-reel, shake-and-bake finish in a sequence that was endzone or bust for the Raiders as the first-half clock ran out — equipped Southridge with its first lead of the night at 14-13. And had most of Raider Field abuzz throughout halftime, too.
“There really wasn’t anything there,” said Craig, who earlier squeezed a 33-yard reception for Southridge’s first score. “But there’s always that threat with me, I like to think that. I just made a play.”
The just-made-a-play nonchalance may qualify for the understatement of the year.
After gaining possession with 1:28 left in the half and pushing the ball 40 yards to Tell City’s 37-yard line, the Raiders had one last gasp at the goal line before halftime. Stetter zinged a pass inside the 20 to Craig. By Raider coach Scott Buening’s recollection, five Marksmen had chances to either run down or wrap up Craig, who also ran for 74 yards and grabbed four passes for 85 yards.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a better individual play where literally you make guys miss ... That was just a special play,” Buening said. “When it happens in what we all knew was going to be a nip-and-tuck battle, that makes it even more special. That was a big one.”
A couple times, it was nearly an end-of-half footnote.
Inside the 10, a defender nearly spilled Craig near the sideline. He scampered to his right. Another Marksman clutched at his legs. Not so fast. Craig wriggled free and trotted into the endzone.
It’s practically become routine for the Raiders, who had 11 scoring plays of 30 or more yards last season. This year, they’ve already unleashed 14 touchdowns of better than 30 yards.
And more often than not, Craig’s the man behind the sudden gusts of yardage.
“Oh my gosh. He’s a freak. I don’t know how to explain it. I’ve never seen a guy run the ball like him,” Raider center Logan Sollman said. “It’s one second, he’s locked up with somebody, getting ready to go down, and all the sudden, he’s gone. You never know what’s going to happen with him.”
For his part, Craig smiled as he pinpointed where all those jukes, spins and twists originated.
“Backyard football at Margy Guy’s house, my neighbor’s. Playing backyard football there all the time,” Craig said, before explaining the genesis of the Raiders’ big-play tendencies.
“Good blocking and it’s just every day in practice, we go hard, work hard, get those big plays, that’s where it comes from. Our line’s good, our backs, they block good, outside receivers, they block well downfield and that’s how we get open. Get open, get a cut, and (we’re) gone.”
Craig was also factored into a more incremental assault as the Raiders ran 63 rushing plays, alternating between Craig (15 carries, 74 yards), Alex Householder (20 carries, 73 yards) and Aidan Michel, who added 67 yards on 19 totes plus the final Raider touchdown in the second half.
Householder also steered the Raiders (5-1, 4-0) into prime field position with kick returns of 42, 25 and 34 yards. The 34-yard surge opened the second half on a drive that provided the game’s decisive margin, as Guadalupe Perez booted a 21-yard field goal.
From there, “big plays” were something of importance instead of distance for the Raiders.
In the second half, Southridge was 4-of-5 on fourth-down conversions. That followed a Wednesday practice in which the Raiders didn’t touch a football, instead devoting the time to blocking.
“We wanted to send the guys a message that it’s a mentality, and these last three weeks are going to be a mentality. X’s and O’s are going to matter, but that ability to come back, that toughness, that investment,” Buening said. “It’s things like that and watching how they respond to a practice like that. They weren’t complaining, they weren’t whining. ... Those fourth-down plays were really a lot of what that practice was about, and those guys really answered the bell against a good football team.”
The Marksmen (4-2, 2-2) had a big-play bonanza of their own, with quarterback Brennan Malone running for a 30-yard score and tossing touchdown passes of 54 and 48 yards — his only two completions of the night. The one time the Raiders failed on fourth down, Tell City gained possession near midfield with five minutes left in the game.
This time, the Marksmen went nowhere. Alex Merkel squashed Elliott Brown for a loss, Beau Schneider hassled Malone into an incompletion and Michel halted Brown on a short gain before a fourth-down pass sailed high. The Raiders didn’t luck into anything, but rather made plays on the critical defensive sequence as Buening commended.
And for the final four minutes, it was run, run, run to finish things off. The short variety this time. Though the Raiders can certainly go big, too.
“If we can do both things, I don’t know many people that can stop us,” Sollman said. “When we’re getting it together, we’re tough to stop.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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