As the saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That decades-old idiom can be applied to a plethora of situations, but last Friday night, it perfectly described Rising Sun’s late-game offensive strategy.
The Rising Sun Tigers (5-2) earned a come-from-behind victory over the Bo Manor Eagles (5-2), 20-13, on the legs of senior quarterback Gannon Russell, who carried both the rock and his team to its fourth win in a row.
“Our line was churning and churning,” said Clem Vaughan, the Tigers’ head coach, of his team’s performance on the ground. “And we knew how they were lining up that there was something we could expose there a little bit.”
Russell, who has undoubtedly cemented himself as one of the county’s top players, carried the ball a whopping 36 times in the Tigers’ comeback win, finding the end zone three times on the ground in the process.
That includes the game-winning score, which came on a 17-yard run with 6:37 to play in the fourth quarter as Russell ran up the middle, juked by a pair of Eagles defenders and strolled, a little off-balance, into the end zone to give the Tigers a 20-13 advantage they’d never relinquish.
“I just know that I’ve got to put my team on my back and do whatever we’ve got to do to win,” Russell said after the victory. “I want to win, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
The Tigers’ offense – as it typically does – ran through Russell.
Early on, Rising Sun struggled to move the ball offensively, scoring on just one possession in the entirety of the first half. But, it didn’t take long for the Tigers to discover their not-so-secret weapon: Russell.
Overall, Russell ran the ball 36 times for 227 yards, earning 6.3 yards per carry as the Tigers had a strategy that was clearly working. And if it’s successful, averaging more than a first down every two plays, why would the Tigers decide to switch it up?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“We’re really conditioned and I felt like they were tired,” Russell said. “So we just kept running the same play nine times in a row.”
The Eagles were playing without star starting quarterback Angel Granado, who was nursing a shoulder injury he suffered in the close win over C. Milton Wright the week before.
In place of Granado was quarterback Drew Lenz, who was not only getting his first career start, but his first career game action. And he made the most of it.
In the first half, Bo Manor’s lone offensive points came on a 25-yard field goal by Tucker Auer on the Eagles’ first possession following a Russell interception. Then, with little time to spare late in the second quarter, the Eagles blocked a punt, which sailed out of the back of the end zone for a safety, amounting to the 6-5 halftime lead for Rising Sun.
On the opening drive of the second half, however, with the Eagles trailing, 6-5, Lenz led a nine-play drive lasting nearly five minutes that ended with him scoring on a hard-fought, 11-yard touchdown run as he ran through a Tigers defender on the goal line to give his team a 13-6 lead.
“The kid threw a nice ball,” Vaughan said of Lenz. “I give him some credit for coming in for the week and, really, he’s the third-string quarterback. … To come in and do that and play in the game and score the go-ahead touchdown, it’s ballsy. It’s good stuff, so good for him. The future’s bright with that kid.”
Though, despite Lenz’s impressive debut, the Eagles failed to muster much offense throughout the game, with his touchdown run acting as the last time they’d see the end zone for the rest of the night.
Defensively, the Eagles simply couldn’t contain the Tigers’ rushing attack late as Rising Sun went up-tempo for much of the second half, making it difficult for Bo Manor to catch its breath.
“I’ll tell you, we knew kind of going in that we could get some tempo on them a little bit,”: Vaughan said. “And because nobody’s seen it with us – you don’t really see it on film because it’s constantly stopping and going. … We got it going pretty good in the second half, making the right calls and knew what we could do with it. So, it helped.”
The Eagles had an opportunity to get the ball back and tie it, but went three-and-out on their ensuing possession, punting the ball right back to the Tigers.
Rising Sun proceeded to bleed the last 4:55 from the game clock, with Russell getting carry-after-carry as the time slowly ticked all the way down without the Eagles getting another crack at a game-tying drive.
“We got into what I would call a ‘dogfight’ tonight and we came out on the wrong side of it, and last week, we got into a dogfight and came out on the right side of it,” said Vincent Ricci, the Eagles’ head coach. “So, we can build from both of these (games). … You can’t knock these kids because, I mean, they came in and fought. We’re always undersized and we don’t have as many players as everybody else does, but these kids fight and they’ll be ready to go on Monday.”
Rising Sun looks to build upon its four-game winning streak when it visits the Joppatowne Mariners (6-1) this week, while Bo Manor hosts the Fallston Cougars (3-4) on Thursday.