Early return indicates Raiders a runaway victor

Herald Sports Writer

CLARKSVILLE — There’s setting a tone, and then there’s what Connor Craig and the Southridge football team did Friday night in their season opener against Clarksville.

After forcing the Generals into a three-and-out on their first possession, Craig caught a punt, then cut left up the sideline before changing direction and following a wall of blockers into the end zone for the game’s first score.

One minute in. Seven points up.

It was that kind of night for the Raiders, who cruised to a 61-8 win while gaining 352 rushing yards, 94 passing and, of course, that nifty Craig punt return touchdown — which he admits had other incentives involved.

“One of my friends bet five dollars that I wouldn’t take it back,” Craig said. “So I got five dollars coming my way.”

Craig paced the Raiders (1-0) with 204 all-purpose yards. He led the team in rushing with 74 yards on eight attempts, including a 25-yard touchdown scamper — off a sweep right that featured some skillful sideline work — and caught one 65-yard touchdown grab off a Luke Stetter play-action pass. Stetter, who completed three passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns, took advantage of a General defense that reeled from a persistent Southridge ground attack. Both his touchdowns, the other a 19-yard lob to fullback Brett Nordhoff, came off disguised pass plays.

First-year Southridge Coach Scott Buening has been vocal this preseason about installing more wrinkles into an effective, but run-heavy offense, especially with receiving weapons like Craig and 6-foot-5 senior Cody Thompson, who caught one pass for 10 yards.

“It’s not like we have to throw more or this or that,” Buening said. “We don’t have percentages in mind. We just want to take advantage of what the defense is giving us. And we need to be able to do those things. Our play-action passing game is something we’ve worked hard on over the summer ... Obviously we came out and had two big ones today, which, in this offense, you need to have.”

The Raiders’ efficient passing game was a stark contrast to the Clarksville offense, which found completions early — albeit behind the line of scrimmage.

Kissel completed 10-of-13 passes for 28 yards. Four of those passes resulted in negative gains and only two exceeded 10 yards. Three General quarterbacks netted 108 yards, 80 of which came on a last-ditch play late in the game. One of the Generals’ top receiving threats, the fleet-footed Marquise Parrish, was held to just three catches for 14 yards.

The Clarksville ground game didn’t fare much better, totalling 34 yards on 23 attempts with one lost fumble. The Generals (0-1) started the game with five consecutive three-and-outs and did not convert a first down until the third quarter, when the Raiders were ahead 54-0.

“It feels really good,” Craig said of the win. “I didn’t expect to win by that much, but it was good to see the offense and defense play really well.”

Craig’s partner in the backfield, Aidan Michel, ran hard between the trenches and tallied 68 yards on five attempts. Senior Alex Householder gained 36 yards, also on five attempts, and at least 10 other Southridge backs received carries as the Raider lead swelled.

Southridge now looks toward next Friday’s matchup at county rival Jasper (1-0). But Buening isn’t giving too much away. His focus is more inward.

“Honestly, we believe everything is about us,” Buening said. “And we’ve got to become as good of a Southridge Raider football team as we can become, and literally that is our focus. Whether we’re playing the Colts, whether we’re playing our seventh-grade team, whether we’re playing our youth team, it doesn’t matter. It’s all irrelevant. We’ve got to go back to work. Every week we’re zero and zero. Our goal is to win one game 15 times. And that’s it.”

Contact Joseph Fanelli at jfanelli@dcherald.com.

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