Historically winning consecutive Big Eight titles is no easy task, but the Reading Rangers made finishing out a perfect conference schedule for the second straight year look as simple as checking off another box on their ‘To-Do’ list Friday.
The Rangers (8-0 overall, 7-0 Big Eight) dominated every phase of the game, and a 33-point first quarter and 54-point first half were more than enough to make the Reading homecoming game a memorable one, in a 60-13 win over Concord (5-3, 4-3).
Ranger head coach Rick Bailey said last year’s run to the state semifinals motivated this year’s team to try and write a successful new chapter of the program’s history on their own — and Friday night was a fine example of his boy’s at their best.
“It all started last year. We had an outstanding weight room turnout and then it followed through and we had a special season (in 2008) and our guys realized what hard work will do for them,” Bailey said. “This summer they worked just as hard and we talk about getting better each week and competing with yourself to make good things happen. I’m very proud of the guys for doing that and back-to-back Big Eight champs, that doesn’t happen very often.”
The Rangers’ latest demonstration of excellence included four touchdowns by star running back Brian Rauth and his complementary backs were reliable side kicks as usual, but it was the Rangers special teams that set the tone and left the Yellow Jackets coaching staff searching for answers early and often.
Before the Rangers offense even took the field, Reading already had a 7-0 lead thanks to a blocked punt and return for a score by senior Alex Eastwood.
“I got through and the guy tried blocking me and I just hit him, he flew into the ball and I just got the opportunity to scoop and score, and that’s what I did,” he said. “It’s not all me, it’s our whole team. I know I’m getting in there, but my team is doing so good backing me up and our defense is just solid right now. It’s great how we’re all working together.”
The Ranger defense did a great job of getting through the line as Eastwood, James Piner and Taylor Miller all had sacks, and the secondary benefited, with Nate McClellan, Joe Hubbard and Rauth all intercepting passes from Jordon Bulloch.
But it was more special teams heroics, specifically from Rauth, that kept fans on their feet in a first half that seemed as if it might never end.
Just under five minutes into the contest Rauth received a kickoff at the 11-yard line and took it 89 yards, reading his blocks and high-stepping off the final tacklers to go the distance.
With the rout already in its latter stages the Yellow Jackets kicked off to him again, and Rauth blazed 88 yards on the first play of the second half to make the margin 60-13.
Very few teams dare kick off to Rauth according to Bailey, and he enjoyed seeing the price the opposition paid.
“Well, they haven’t seen him return on anyone because nobody else has kicked off to him,” he said. “They have a nice kicker, so all week we were saying that’s good because he’s going to kick it deep and we’re going to have a chance, so that was fun to see Brian up through the middle there.”
Rauth also took a Joe Hubbard screen pass 63 yards for a touchdown in the first half, and added 109 yards and a score on eight carries.
Rauth said it feels good to see all the hard work pay off, especially after sitting outside the limelight, behind guys like Trevor Ryan and Trent Morris last year.
“Taking the place of Trent Morris and Trevor Ryan, they’re great backs, so taking their place, it feels good to fill their shoes,” he said. “People like James Piner are more of a vocal speaker, where I’m more of a lead-by-example kind of a guy, I just do what I do I guess, and I just listen to James Piner pretty much.”
For the Yellow Jackets it was a lot of punts and turnovers, but they did put together some solid drives on the night. Their highlight reel play of the evening was a beautifully placed 76-yard pass from Bulloch to Zach Brigham, which set up a 1-yard run for pay-dirt by Patrick Clark. Other than that, Concord was kept off-balance and out of sorts. Bulloch was 6-for-17 for 155 yards and the three picks.
Opposing signal caller Joe Hubbard was as good as he could be with limited opportunities, going 4-for-5 for 126 yards and a score.
Bailey said he hasn’t had to utilize Hubbard to the fullest extent yet, but that may change in the coming weeks. And if so, he likes what he has to work with.
“I don’t care what they say — Joe Hubbard is the best quarterback in the league, in the area,” he said. “We just don’t have an opportunity to pass as much, but it starts with the line and it was a nice throw he had to Trevor (Shafer) down there, and it was as good of a high school catch as I’ve seen, the way he shielded off the bigger defender and brought it in.”
Shafer’s catch was good for 35 yards, just another example of a Reading senior who has worked hard to make it happen.
“It’s just leadership and working hard in the weight room and just all the sprints everyday working hard because we knew we had the potential to be good,” Eastwood said. “We’re all feeling nice as a family right now which is what we need to play good football.”