Week 1 Recap: New-look Rams ooze confidence in Cowbell blowout
By BRANDON HURLEY
A new era began with an explosive gridiron execution.
Greene County’s latest annihilation of the Perry Bluejays was relatively methodical, brutally enhanced by a stalwart defense and an enriching stream of newcomers. When the anti-climatic buzzer sounded at the finality of a picture-perfect evening Aug. 28, the victorious Rams had secured the Cowbell trophy for the third straight year behind a convincing 49-0 shellacking.
The Jefferson-based football squad strung together a rather cohesive showcase offensively as well as on the defensive front in their season-opener, silencing any doubters who questioned whether they could duplicate the production of the school’s greatest two-year run.
GCHS entered the 2020 season on the heels of a 17-4 stretch run, piloted by one of the most statistically successful classes in Jefferson’s history. A number of those departed athletes shattered previous school records, marks which will likely stand for decades to come.
Friday’s week 1 matchup was a chance for the new crop of athletes to strut their stuff. And impress they did.
Greene County’s vicious defense silenced the rather inept Perry Bluejays, holding their longtime rivals to 47 total yards and no points. PHS suffered through yet another nightmare, never once crossing the 50 yard line while throwing for just 10 yards on three of 10 passing and a mere 37 rush yards.
Greene County’s continued dominance in one of Iowa’s oldest rivalries has become the norm as of late. The Rams have outscored PHS 103-0 over the last two years, holding the Bluejays under 100 yards in each encounter.
GCHS rang up 43 first half points in the most recent beatdown, including 30 alone in the second quarter.
In a game bolstered by one encouraging touchdown after another, it was perhaps the play of new quarterback Bryce Stalder that stood out most. He out-shined a bevy of top tier performances, displaying remarkable poise, touch and athletic ability en route to three first half touchdowns (two passing and one rushing).
The pressures of Stalder’s first start under center didn’t seem to fluster the junior, even if he admitted to a small trickle of anxiety prior to kick off. The doubts quickly evaporated once Nate Black took the opening hand-off for a score, only to have it erased because of a holding penalty. Despite the frustrating penalty and six removed from the scoreboard, Perry’s defense seemed penetrable, and Stalder relaxed.
“I was a bit nervous,” the quarterback said. “But once that first snap hit and you hear the pads clapping, I settled in.”
Stalder wasted little time engineering a scoring jaunt a few plays later on Greene County’s opening drive, finding Jackson Morton for a 23-yard touchdown pass on third down. He’d later connect with Max Riley on another beautiful fade route midway through the second before punctuated by a rushing touchdown of his own to cap off a stellar opening half. Stalder’s stat line in his first official start may seem a little underwhelming, at least yardage wise, but only because the game was well out of hand by halftime. The junior finished his debut 6-11 for 102 yards with two touchdowns in addition to a team-leading 35 yards rushing yards on three carries and a touchdown. Not a bad effort for a guy taking his first varsity snaps. He certainly lived up to any expectations hurled on his inexperienced arm.
“It felt awesome,” Stalder said.
Greene County’s second quarter explosion was all the positive reinforcement the Rams desired and more, extending a 13-0 opening frame lead into a massive 43-0 advantage at the break. Sophomore Max Riley snagged a high-arcing touchdown pass from Stalder to solidify the growing lead in the second quarter while sophomore Richard Daughtery punched home his second score of the half on a 76-yard kick-return, the sideline tip-toeing jaunt coming mere seconds after a Perry safety. The successful offensive execution surprised Stalder and his teammates very little, as they tallied 296 total yards and seven touchdowns.
“Our line was really getting a good push,” Stalder said. “Our pass game was there. (Offensive coordinator) Cole Jaeschke was calling good plays. Everything was working.”
Making a debut even that much sweeter, Stalder broke out in the famous Cowbell game. It was a real treat for the junior to help his teammates secure the trophy for the fourth time in five years.
“It means everything. We came into this game thinking it’s not going to be easy and we have to play our best,” Stalder said after the game. “We did and it feels good.”
Daughtery also snatched a first quarter receiving touchdown from 27 yards out while senior Jaxon Warnke led the team in receiving with two receptions for 53 yards. In all, eight different Greene County receivers caught passes from three Ram quarterbacks.
Defensively, three Greene County athletes led the way with 2.5 tackles (Warnke, Brenner Gallagher and Morton) while Warnke snatched up the only turnover of the night, a late first half fumble recovery.
GCHS’ dominating victory allowed them to crack the Associated Press’ Class 2A rankings, sliding in at a tie for seventh along with West Liberty and Central Lyon/George-Little Rock.
The Rams host second-rated South Central Calhoun (1A) Friday night in Greene County’s home-opener.