Southridge goes undefeated, wins PACOctober 16, 2020
By JIMMY LAFAKIS
FERDINAND — When Southridge (9-0, 5-0) recovered the opening kickoff of Friday evening’s Pocket Athletic Conference Small School Division football game against Forest Park (6-3, 2-2), the Raiders set the tone.
Southridge seized the early momentum and claimed a 38-0 victory over the Rangers. A 28-point first quarter helped the Raiders clinch their first undefeated regular season in school history.
“That’s a hard thing to do over a nine-week season,” Southridge head coach Scott Buening said. “We’ve played quite a few ranked teams and some very good opponents. We’re happy to get to 9-0, but I’ll also say that these guys have really done it with a selfless approach.”
Senior running back and wide receiver Camden Gasser made an early statement for the Raiders. Gasser bounced to the outside of the field and scored a 40-yard rushing touchdown with 11:07 to play in the first quarter.
After senior running back Matt Springer punched in a touchdown from a yard out with 5:28 remaining in the quarter, Gasser snagged an 18-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Chase Taylor with 3:44 to play in the period. On the defensive side of the ball, Southridge junior safety Kaden Neukam stayed alert and brought a pick-six to the house at the 2:44 mark in the quarter.
“Our kids got an opportunity and took advantage of that opportunity,” Buening said. “They were hungry. This was important to them.”
Gasser did not want to stop after scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter. Taylor lofted a touch pass toward the back corner of the end zone, and Gasser hauled in a 10-yard score with 8:26 remaining in the second frame. As the final minutes of the first half ticked down, Southridge’s defense held firm.
Raiders senior kicker Jaylon Leon knocked in a 26-yard field goal as time expired, bringing the game to its final score.
“We’ve been lucky over the last seven years or so,” Buening said. “We’ve had some really good kickers. Jaylon is no exception. He works so hard on his craft and what he does. The kids love him. He’s a good kid. With his ability to kick the ball on kickoffs, extra points and field goals, we darn near get to the point where you almost take him for granted. He just does such a good job.”
In the first half, Southridge accumulated 249 rushing yards on just 25 attempts. The Raiders’ 38-point advantage activated the second half’s running clock.
Southridge marched down the field in the third quarter, but came up scoreless. Forest Park made a goal-line stand to begin the third quarter.
In an attempt to gain ground, the Rangers mixed in some runs and passes in the final frame. The stingy Southridge defense kept the shutout alive, and the PAC Small School Division champions celebrated on the sideline.
“Our defense has played very well all year,” Buening said. “Our first unit has given up very few points this year. We’ve played some awfully good offenses. It’s kind of the same deal — we don’t have any standout kid defensively. We’ve just got a bunch of kids who really do play team defense. They’re not concerned with how many tackles they get. They’re going to their job.”
Forest Park senior fullback Jake Begle recorded 44 rushing yards in the contest. In the first half, Begle eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
“I’m really happy for him,” Rangers head coach Ross Fuhs said. “I know he’ll give credit to the line, which they obviously deserve. He’s a kid who worked hard all offseason to get to where he was. He put on about 20 pounds of muscle and worked his tail off to be a leader for this team. That’s what he’s done. His hard work has paid off.”
Both teams will begin sectional play Oct. 23. Southridge will travel to Mount Vernon, while Forest Park will host North Knox in a chance to redeem itself from its Nov. 1, 2019 25-0 sectional semifinal loss to the Warriors.
“It’s just one of those deals where you’ve got to keep your head up,” Fuhs said. “We’ve had a great season at 6-3. The biggest thing for us — we’ve got to get tougher.”
Meanwhile, Southridge will get a look at former assistant coach Luke Messmer, who’s in his first season as the head coach of the Wildcats.
“They’ve got a lot of enthusiasm over there,” Buening said. “They’re excited about Mount Vernon football. They should be. They’ve got some good players.”
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