Lighter attitude paying dividends for Raiders

Photo by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Southridge’s Camden Gasser, far right, cheered during Friday’s Class 2A sectional quarterfinal against South Spencer in Huntingburg. The Raiders defeated the Rebels 46-7, repeating a regular-season effort that saw Southridge post a 56-7 triumph, in order to qualify for a home sectional semifinal game against Linton-Stockton next Friday. For more photos from the game, click here.


HUNTINGBURG — The Southridge football team has come to a beautiful understanding.

The Raiders are bustling with personalities, as coach Scott Buening will tell you, though guys like Matt Gentry know when to put the funny business on hold for when it’s appropriate. And with Buening, he doesn’t fuss as much over potential distractions that used to unsettle him; things like homecoming sessions, pep rallies and having his players serve as powder puff football coaches.

After fifth-ranked Southridge crunched South Spencer 46-7 on Friday to ease into next week’s Class 2A sectional semifinals, Buening characterized it as a mature victory, and there was a time earlier this season when he may not have applied that adjective to his squad. But things have advanced for the Raiders (8-2).

Players have matured. Buening has relaxed. It’s been a win-win for both parties.

“Earlier in the year I felt like we didn’t always understand time and place as well as we needed to. It’s important to come out and play loose, play with enthusiasm, and I think in some respects this team has helped me with that,” Buening said. “That’s not generally my M.O. And sometimes that’s not always a good thing. We’ve got some funny guys, we’ve got some loose guys. But when they’re on the field, they play, they play hard, they practice well, they prepare well, and I think that’s the thing where we’ve seen the biggest improvement over the year.

“They’ve always given good effort in practice, but their preparation habits have really improved ... and that’s what’s put us in a position to be here in the second round and have a chance to go (further).”

Southridge will be back at Raider Field next Friday to confront Linton (7-3) in a rematch of a season opener the Raiders took 17-16 on the Miners’ home field. Back then, the carefree tone around the team got more hurriedly buttoned up. The initial Linton game was still a win, but one the Raiders figured could’ve been better with a more earnest approach.

“Linton week, we came out and just laid an egg,” Gentry said. “We didn’t play that good, and then as the season progressed we got more serious and more serious, because we realized what football meant to us. The seniors had took us all this way and meant everything to us, so we had to show ’em we really appreciated that, so we straightened everything up.”

Gentry acknowledged that as a freshman and sophomore, he rarely watched game film and usually ate whatever he wanted. These days, he’s cutting out the McDonald’s trips and poring over game film just about every weekday. On Friday, Gentry helped the thrust for an offensive line that paved the way for Southridge to rush for 374 yards, while the Raiders limited South Spencer (3-7) to exactly zero yards on the ground while Rebel quarterback Manning Webb slinged 40 pass attempts and completed 23.

Some Raiders are more in the mold of Tucker Schank, “a real competitive, serious guy that’s real nuts and bolts,” Buening said of the junior, who rumbled for 118 rushing yards and four total touchdowns, giving him 20 TDs for the season. Other Raiders are there to supply levity, as Buening said guys like Gentry, Jacob Masterson (who swiped an interception) and Logan Seger are adept at injecting the fun quotient.

“The biggest goofball? Matt Gentry, by far. Shortest, fattest one, but he has the biggest personality,” Seger joked about the solidly-built, 5-foot-10, 263-pound junior and his brand of unpredictable humor. “He’s all over the place. You don’t know what’s coming next.”

Gentry’s coach, meanwhile, has come to embrace the method to his occasional madness.

“And I blame me for this — a lot of time I’ve coached that out of kids,” Buening acknowledged. “I had to learn with Matt. Early in the season, I remember our scrimmage and Matt was loose, he was a little goofy before the scrimmage, and maybe at times during the scrimmage.

“But I found when he was serious, when he was quiet, he didn’t play well. I’ve had to learn to make sure I’m letting their personality be their personality, as long as they’re out here playing hard, working hard. When that’s what they’re doing ... I love the enthusiasm, I love the passion. I think that’s what makes for great team chemistry.”

The Raiders are also starting to understand the more relaxed rhythm Buening has adopted: “During practice during the week, he’ll kind of start off strict on Mondays, then we’ll start to mess around with him on Tuesday and Thursday and all that, and by Friday we’ll be joking around with him in strength class (during the school day),” Gentry said. “It’s kind of just a weekly thing, it just restarts over and over.”

Nothing to stress about on this Friday, when Southridge bolted to a 40-0 halftime cushion and Raider quarterback Jayce Harter ran for 110 yards and a TD and passed for 139 yards plus a touchdown strike to Grant Maxey.

From Cole Calvert to Colson Montgomery to Seth Nunamaker, who darted for a 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter, runs kept coming in big chunks from the reserves who closed out Southridge’s largest winning margin in a sectional game since a 42-point clobbering of Tell City in 2011.

Now comes an uncharacteristic week of preparation which Buening is eager to see how his guys tackle.

A newly expanded fall break gives Southridge the entire week off school. So it’s football all weekend ... and then nothing but football all next week, too, with practices in the morning two days and in the standard afternoon time slot the other two days.

“It sounds terrific to me,” a smiling Seger said. “I’m looking forward to it. All day during school it’s hard to think with the task; game this Friday and fall break, that’s all I can think about. Really looking forward to it, to get some rest and just focus on football.”

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