Written by Hillsdale Daily News Coorespondent James Gensterblum
Though it’s a new football season, one can be forgiven if they thinking it was still 2008 when they were watching the Reading Rangers defeat the Quincy Orioles 48-6 in the Bell Game on Thursday night.
After all, the Rangers featured a power back wearing the number 32 trucking linebackers on draw plays, a speedy burner who gashed his way through the Orioles defense, and a nasty fullback who bulled his way through opposing defensive lines — all behind a dominant offensive front, exactly the formula that allowed Reading to go 12-1 and make the state semifinals last season.
And although Trent Morris, Trevor Ryan, and four of their five starting offensive linemen from last year have moved on, the Rangers haven’t skipped a beat offensively. Reading put up 359 yards on the ground for six touchdowns behind seniors Brian Rauth and Billy Julian and junior Matt VanNuys.
“Any time you lose two running backs of their (Morris and Ryan’s) caliber, they’re going to be tough to replace,” said VanNuys, who had 11 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown and also went 6-6 on extra point attempts. “That motivated all of us to work even harder this summer, knowing whose shoes we had to fill. That work in the weight room and on the practice field has set us up for success in games.”
Rauth was the team’s leading rusher, with 165 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown, while Julian, a transfer from Edon, Ohio, scored two touchdowns and tallied nine carries and 45 yards.
Quarterback Joe Hubbard added a 42-yard touchdown pass to Alex Eastwood, and Frank Stepnowski scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to complete Reading’s scoring on the night.
Defensively the Rangers had some trouble early against the pass, giving up a 66-yard pass play in the first quarter and allowing senior QB Shane Rider to complete a five-yard strike to receiver Bobby Banker to get the Orioles on the board early.
However, the Rangers clamped down after that, holding Quincy to just nine yards rushing for the game and picking off Rider to end the first half.
The turnaround began up front, where senior end Eastwood and middle linebacker James Piner pressured Rider all game and kept all-conference tailback Michael Brewer bottled up all night.
The line’s success allowed Reading to drop its outside linebackers, VanNuys and Julian, into coverage, where the pair showed off their athleticism in blanketing Quincy’s slot receivers.
“Our success on both sides of the ball began in the trenches tonight,” Reading coach Rick Bailey said. “The offensive and defensive lines won their battles against a bigger team in Quincy, and allowed our skill-position athletes to be effective. They deserve a lot of the credit for the win.”
With the victory, Reading moves to 2-0 on the season and 1-0 in the Big 8, and must prepare for a huge showdown next week when they travel to league foe Union City in a game that could decide the Big 8 title.
“We haven’t won up there in nearly two decades, so it’s going to be tough,” Bailey said. “It’s not an easy place to play, so our players are going to have to be mentally strong to get the win.”
It has been precisely 20 years since Reading returned home from Union City with a victory, with their last road win their coming in 1989.
Although a difficult opponent looms, for one night at least the Rangers could celebrate their victory over their hated rival. Reading has now won three straight Bell Games by a combined score of 124-6 over the Orioles.
“Any time you beat your rival, it’s a good feeling, but it especially means a lot to me as a senior,” Piner said. “I’m happy to help extend the streak and hopefully it doesn’t end anytime soon.”