Week 9 Football: Playoff Bound
By BRANDON HURLEY
JEFFERSON – An OA-BCIG fumble on the opening play was the minuscule window of opportunity Greene County needed.
That’s all it took to complete one of the most stunning turnarounds in school history, heck, let’s not be too humble, one of the most startling heel turns this state has seen in years.
From 1-8 a year ago and two wins in the last 16 games to a sparkling 8-1 record 12 months later and firmly in the playoffs, the Greene County Rams made history Oct. 19 in front of a giddy contingent of hometown fans.
A boost in confidence, a ball-hawking defense and a well-oiled offensive game plan led the ninth-ranked Rams to a share of the Class 2A, District 9 title, dismantling 10th-ranked OA-BCIG, 49-6 in Jefferson.
The victory cemented the best regular season run in the short-lived history of the consolidated school district and also ties the most victories by a Jefferson-based team since the 2007 season (Jefferson-Scranton/Paton-Churdan was 8-2 that year).
Lance Hughes, one of the stars of the blowout win, was ecstatic as the final whistle blew last Friday and classmates, friends and family spilled onto the field. He’s been a key receiver the last two years, so of course, he’s experienced the transition first hand, from the bottom a year ago to 4-1 in district play, in a two-way tie for the title, a seven improvement in just a year’s time. Hughes never had a doubt it would happen, he knew Greene County would eventually have a shot at making a deep run.
“To be honest, I did, because of (trusting the process),” he said. “We have to trust (it). We have to keep grinding. We are going to go big places.
It feels great,” he continued, lingering on Linduska Field in Jefferson one final time. “There’s no other way to play your last game on this field, it feels amazing.”
It was the most complete game of the year for a streaking Greene County squad, a dazzling performance that came at the most opportune time. The Rams needed a win to get into the playoffs, and did so emphatically, racing out to a 28-0 halftime lead.
Greene County head coach Mitch Moore knew his guys would have little trouble getting up for a top 10 match up with a playoff berth on the line, but being able to funnel that energy into a program-defining win was vital. And the Rams did just that last week, thanks to an extraordinary week of practice, Moore said.
“The key was our preparation,” the coach said. “I thought as a staff we had the best preparation in 12 weeks of football. Our kids were confident going in, and when you get a turnover on the first play of the game, that gets your emotions going and it certainly helped us. I know we only scored three points, but I think it helped us set the tone right away. That turnover, It really, in my eyes, woke up a sleeping giant.”
With the 2018 season hanging in the balance and perhaps playing in his final game in a Ram uniform, Hughes made this one count, helping Greene County exceed expectations by putting up a bonkers stat line, hauling in the game’s opening fumble while also snagging a pair of touchdown grabs and tallying 164 yards receiving. The senior stepped up and converted when it mattered most, even shaking off an early drop.
“My teammates helped me,” he said. “I have to make big plays in big games, so I kept my head up and my teammates kept my head up so I was able to make big plays.”
Greene County’s 11-man defensive unit held 2A’s leading passer, Kaden Ladwig, to 10-of-28 passing (35 percent) for 193 yards and a touchdown. He came into the contest averaging 297 yards per game and three scores. The Falcons tallied just 219 total yards (only 27 rushing yards) and six points, more than 130 yards under their average (359 ypg) and 28 points less than their scoring average (34ppg) thanks to a first half shutout and a tightly woven defense. Greene County held OA-BCIG to season low marks in nearly every substantial category. The Rams recovered three fumbles and recorded five tackles for loss, led by Tyler Miller’s two sacks.
The defensive shellacking of one of 2A’s most elite offenses, fresh off a 30-point win over district champion Kuemper, was due to a schematic change by Moore and company.
“Our strength is playing in space, and we were playing against a team that really wanted to be in space,” Moore said. “Two of our linebackers that we kept in the box all year, Nick Breon and Austin Delp, they became really dominant space players in a game where most of the time we (had) them in the box.”
The Rams confused Ladwig and the OA-BCIG offense, showcasing a game plan that didn’t show up on film the prior eight weeks, which gave the Falcons no time to prepare or adjust.
Quarterback Brent Riley continued his hot play from a week ago, throwing for 284 yards and four scores, fueled by a string of long, perfectly placed throws (both to Hughes), capping a dominant first half. The junior gun-slinger finished the regular season fifth in 2A with 1,955 yards and 21 touchdowns, which is the seventh best mark in the state. He’s thrown for 558 yards and five touchdowns in the last two weeks. It’s a tribute to not only his growth in his first year under center, but his resiliency as well, Moore said.
“Brent has continued to get better at understanding the offense,” Moore said. “For the second week in a row, he showed his best demeanor as a quarterback. He got an opportunity to just sit in the pocket. He had a lot of time. Our offensive line did a great job protecting him and he was extremely accurate.
Then our receivers, holy cow, did they make some plays.”
As a team, the Rams compiled 494 total yards, including 202 rushing yards, led by 86 yards and two touchdowns from Clint Dennhardt. The senior now has 14 rushing touchdowns, and 18 total scores on the year.
“Our running game, with Clint being so dynamic and Colby being so tough, he broke so many tackles. Our protection, they really paved the way for a good rushing attack,” Moore said. “We were balanced, and when we are like that, it’s hard for us to get beat.”
A senior class of 10 came up huge on senior night, leaving a significant mark, as Hughes, Trey Hinote and Clint Dennhardt all combined for five touchdowns, while Bryce Hoyle and Brock Wuebker each continued strong play on both sides of the ball. Clay Smith and Austin Delp each patrolled the middle of the field as linebackers while Hinote helped solidify a strong secondary. It was as complete a performance from the graduating class that they could’ve hoped for, a group that set the tone for a new wave of Greene County athletes.
“It was cool, everybody had their moment to shine,” Hinote said. “We will remember this moment for the rest of our lives. We are ready for next week, a new season starts.”
The week nine victory earned the Rams a date in the 2018 Class 2A playoffs as they’ll square off against fourth-seeded Benton Community (8-1). The Bobcats won the district seven title, and will host a Rams team riding a three-game winning streak at 7 p.m. Friday night in Van Horne.