The Comets made a memorable goal-line stand and took an 8-point lead early in the third quarter, but eventually Brian Rauth broke off a few of his signature mammoth runs, with power-back Billy Julian leading the way, and for the 19th consecutive regular season contest Reading came away victorious, 18-14.
Rangers head coach Rick Bailey was jubilant following the victory, singing the fight song along with his boys, and giving them credit for never giving up against a big, physical Comets line.
“We talked to them before the game and at halftime about the heart of a champion. And give Jonesville credit, they played a great game, and they stopped us down there on the (1-yard line) and it would’ve been easy to fold tent right there,” he said. “But we came right back, scored, and our offensive line had a tremendous effort.”
For the Comets (2-3 overall, 2-2 Big Eight) it was their third loss by two touchdowns or less this season and it was almost unbearable to see a shot at their first win in five tries against Reading (5-0, 4-0) slip through their fingers in the fourth quarter.
“The (players are) beat up, on each other, not physically, because that’s three games we’ve let slip away. And not so much us, we played three solid football teams we have losses to, and I give all the credit in the world to Reading and Bailey,” Jonesville coach Joshua Lindeman said. “I asked them to come out and play for 48 minutes and they did that, so I told them there is not another group in the world I’ve been affiliated with that I love more, and am more proud of. But I know as players you are looking at the three losses and the 2-3, and we have to do our best to not let them focus on that.”
The Jonesville faithful erupted with roars of excitement early in the second half when Trevor Kelley cut outside for a 78-yard touchdown run to give his team a 14-6 lead, but less than five minutes later it was a Comets fumble that helped their opponents’ cause.
Junior QB Spencer Nielsen fumbled the snap and the Rangers recovered it on their own 11-yard line.
A few plays later Rauth was in the back of the end zone on a six yard run, and although the Rangers missed the 2-point conversion and still trailed, the momentum had shifted.
After forcing two three-and-outs the Reading offense finally saw Rauth break off the kind of run he’s been known for all season.
After getting jumbled up inside the tackles he popped outside and went 61 yards up the left sidelines, to the 2-yard line where Billy Julian punched it in soon after, for the final 18-14 margin.
Rauth had 180 yards on 22 carries (including a 33-yard TD), close to his season average, but it was Julian, the senior transfer from Edon, Ohio who was picking up blocks on linebackers all night long and getting five yards up the middle with his brute strength.
“Billy Julian, he gave us a boost with a great effort. One, he gave Brian a little bit of a breather because we like to hand him the football for obvious reasons, and two, Billy is a capable back,” Bailey said. “He doesn’t have breakaway speed but he runs the football hard. Every play (Jonesville) was up there pointing at (Brian) and it was a great job on Billy’s part.”
Lindeman said Rauth was certainly as good at reading blocks and being shifty as he had heard, but Julian (who had 54 yards on 13 carries) was a big-time player when things began to shift in the second half.
“It’s not even so much Billy Julian’s running, it was his blocking. It was him coming through the hole and getting just enough of our linebacker,” he said. “In the first half our defensive line was able to control the front and they weren’t able to get to the second level, but by the end of the game I think we wearing down a little and they were able to block us one-on-one and then get those guys out on our linebackers.”
Despite being worn, down the Comets defensive line more than stood up to the challenge of taking on a team that was averaging close to 50 points per game..
With the Comets nursing a 14-12 lead the Rangers had a 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line when the Jonesville defense decided to stand on its head and let nothing past the line of scrimmage.
After three straight runs went no where, Rangers QB Joe Hubbard was pressured into an incompletion into the end zone and the Comets held onto the lead for the time being.
“That goal-line stand was something we’ve worked hard on, it was just one of those things…we really put that goal-line in for 3rd-and-1 situations. I thought our kids did a great job,” Lindeman said. “It’s a testament to the hard work of the kids that we have. These kids are high character kids, the type of kids you want in your football program.”
Bailey was complimentary of his own defense as well, saying they did about as good of a job as they could against a T-formation team with two talented backs.
“(Jonesville) had that quick pitch and broke through, and those guys are capable of that, but really they had one drive on us I thought,” he said. “Our defense buckled down and credit to Coach (Brad) Affholter on that because he got into a rhythm on figuring out what they were calling.”
Kelley totaled 159 yard on 11 runs and John Sigler had 34 yards on 13 carries, but Kory Kidder, who has had several games like Julian had Friday, was held to three yards on five carries.
The Comets had one final shot, driving all the way to the Reading 32-yard line, but Nielsen lost 10 yards trying to scramble from the Rangers linebackers on second down, and Lindeman’s squad couldn’t quite recover.
Bailey said it was by far his team’s toughest opponent to date and he had plenty of respect for the scare Jonesville gave his squad.
“They played better, I don’t know if they were better than last year’s team. They are the most physical team we’ve played and they’ve got two backs who are very good,” he said. “Defensively they obviously played us better than anyone we’ve seen, so all that said, maybe they are better than last year.”