Grounded: Bullying Raiders nip RangersSeptember 3, 2011
By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer
HUNTINGBURG — If nothing else, Kelly Murphy wanted his Southridge football team to establish an identity Friday night during the Raiders’ collision with Forest Park at Raider Field.
Southridge all but ditched the passing game and returned to its roots under Murphy as the offensive line constantly produced pancake blocks in allowing the Raider running backs to gash the Ranger defense in a 21-14 Southridge triumph where the drama didn’t stop dripping until the very end.
Forest Park clutched an early lead off a 59-yard flea-flicker from running back Dakota Geyer to Ben Braunecker in the first quarter — a play imported into the playbook specifically to combat the aggressive defense of Southridge (2-1, 1-0 Pocket Athletic Conference). The Rangers (2-1, 1-1) then tied the game at 14 when Miles Leonard found Braunecker, who finished with five catches for 130 yards, for a 9-yard strike that came on a drive that started in Raider territory after a Lynk Kordes interception.
But before, during and after, it was Blake Nordhoff’s three goal-line touchdown runs that propelled Southridge.
“When I’m that close to the goal line, I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing,” Nordhoff said. “I’m not thinking about running around people. I’m just going straight for the goal line.”
Murphy told quarterback Jacob Hildebranski he may not attempt a pass the entire game.
Murphy was off a bit. By two. Nordhoff enjoyed plenty of opportunities, as the Raiders gobbled up 260 rushing yards on a whopping 63 carries.
“They bring so much pressure, you can’t stand back there and chuck the ball too much,” Murphy said of Forest Park’s defense. “You got to go right at them and you got to be physical.
We just felt like that was what we wanted to do.”
“We got some gamers,” Murphy added. “I think we found our identity.”
Nordhoff racked up 42 yards on 14 carries, but deflected credit to the offensive line, and also to Ben Weber (44 yards) and Alex Householder, who finished with a game-high 106 yards rushing on only 16 carries.
Murphy credited offensive coordinator Brad Ohanian for not scrambling for new ideas despite not seeing any immediate returns on the ground. Southridge concocted a 16-play, eight-minute-plus drive in the first quarter — a sequence that didn’t net any points. There was never any thought in abandoning the gameplan.
“I’m proud of Coach Ohanian. He stuck with it, and he didn’t panic,” Murphy said. “He stuck with it, and that’s difficult for a young coach.”
For a moment though, it looked like the Raiders may have had to jettison their ground scheme for some aerial maneuvering as the Rangers drove for a possible tie-breaking score in the fourth quarter. Facing second-and-goal at the Raider 8-yard line, Leonard lofted a pass toward the end zone. But the ball hung a bit, and Southridge’s Luke Mundy timed his jump and intercepted the pass for a touchback, allowing Southridge to take over on the 20, where the Raiders then started their game-winning drive.
“He’s getting better every week,” Forest Park coach Terry Wagner said of Leonard. “Once in a while he’ll still get caught trying to jam it in there, but most good quarterbacks, they’re going to throw a couple interceptions.”
Leonard ensured the Raiders didn’t celebrate too early, as he zipped a 46-yard completion to Geyer with a little more than a minute remaining as the Rangers drove for the tying score. A 20-yard strike to Braunecker set up two batted-down incompletions in the end zone, as Householder and Nathan Tretter jumped up and ripped the ball away from Braunecker on consecutive plays.
“They did a good job on him,” Wagner said of the Raiders’ double-teaming of Braunecker. “But he’s got to be a lot stronger and be able to pull the ball in better at times.”
Wagner marveled at the plays Braunecker did make, and also at the progress that continues from Leonard, who stayed poised in the pocket in the second half. He routinely looked off his first and second receiver in throwing for 177 yards.
But the Raiders made sure any Ranger mistakes were capitalized upon.
After Mundy’s pick, South-ridge finished off a 12-play, 80-yard drive with Nordhoff plunging in from 2 yards out. On the drive, Weber carried five times for 20 yards, including once moving the pile to place the Raiders to within a yard of a first down in the red zone. Mirroring Nordhoff, he praised the offensive line for its steamrolling performance.
“They’re workers, every one of them,” Weber said of the offensive linemen. “They love the game of football. They want to win and there’s nothing more important than having that passion to win and they want to defend Raider football tradition.”
Weber did a little of that himself, too, in the spirit of the game. Before kickoff, Forest Park players Austin Kempf, Anthony Fischer and Ethan Knust were recognized for helping to save the life of a pregnant woman from Huntingburg earlier in the week when the truck she was in flipped over and caught fire. After Braunecker fell to the turf on the last play of the game, without the ball, he stayed on the ground, motionless. Around him, the Raiders celebrated.
Weber walked over, not saying anything. But he could relate.
“I’ve been in that situation before. You’re in that big moment and it doesn’t come through,” Weber said. “I just tried to help him up and be a good sport.”
The big-picture thinking washed over all the Raiders. Murphy talked of the players who made an impact like he was going over the season’s roster. But all the Raiders shared one common trait.
“Our kids kept plugging away,” Murphy said. They didn’t get excited and they didn’t get rattled. They kept plugging away and so many kids stepped up tonight in the face of adversity.
“I found out a lot about my team tonight, and it didn’t have anything to do with physical stuff.
It’s just about the heart and the desire, and that’s a big thing.”
Contact John Patishnock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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