It was not a prototypical Reading win Friday night, it was a of grind-it-out, “we’re tougher than you are” systematic kind of victory involving a two-hour mud bath that puts a team into the second round of the playoffs.
Billy Julian ran for 124 yards and a touchdown and the Ranger defense forced two key fumbles in a 20-8 home victory over Ottawa Lake Whiteford that sends them to a showdown with 10-0 Hudson next week.
The Rangers usual mojo is a heavy dose of Brian Rauth and plenty of different blitz looks on defense, but on Friday Julian and a great push from the front-line on both sides was all they needed.
Julian carried the ball 18 times and he used his brute strength and great center of balance to earn tough yards inside, and he also got outside for a couple of sizable runs.
He had four runs of at least 14 yards, including 24 and 29-yarders. Brian Rauth was held to 50 yards on 16 carries and had trouble holding onto an increasingly slippery ball. Rauth had several of the Rangers six fumbles, three of which they lost.
Reading head coach Rick Bailey said he knew it was going to be a different style game than his boys were used to when it started pouring heavily around 3 p.m. and he let Julian know he’d have plenty of opportunities to help out his teammates.
“Billy is very strong in the lower half and secondly his running style, he doesn’t pick his feet up very high. So before the game I told him he was the “mudder” and that proved to be right,” Bailey said. “Obviously it was difficult sledding for Brian to plant, so we couldn’t do anything like we’ve done all year.”
Julian was all smiles after the win, but was busy deflecting much of the praise elsewhere.
“It was my front line, all seven of them blocked, the tailback got me some nice blocks and I just did my job. I knew it was slippery, so I took quick, short steps and that was it,” he said. “It felt great, it felt great.”
After a long Julian run in the second quarter, Ranger QB Joe Hubbard scored on a 1-yard keeper as Reading went up 8-0.
Eight minutes later Hubbard did a great job of staying in the pocket and finding Chad Berger with a dump-off pass on fourth-and-eight for a 10-yard touchdown.
The Bobcats threatened with a long drive down to the Ranger 30-yard line to start the game, but it ended with a fumble that was picked up by Jimmy Julian.
Fast forward almost two quarters and it was more of the same.
Whiteford had the ball first-and-10 at the Reading 11-yard line when Cody Donnelly couldn’t quite absorb a big hit and Jimmy Julian scooped up another fumble to bury the Bobcats drive.
“Defense played great all night,” Bailey said. “Both of us were pretty even as far as size-wise goes, which isn’t very often for us, but we got off the ball well and it took away their option. They’re kind of more of a sideways type team and obviously in field conditions like that it is tough to do.”
James Piner had 10 tackles and Alex Eastwood was in quarterback Travis Pant’s ear all night long, coming up with a big sack and another pressure on the Bobcats final drive.
The only time Whiteford had any success was when the ball was in Jake Dupree’s hands. He caught three passes for 93 yards, including a 62-yard screen pass for the Bobcats lone touchdown just minutes into the second half. Bailey said that play should’ve probably not gone the distance.
“We kind of knew what play they were running right there and we missed the first tackle and then we went for the big hit and couldn’t get it,” he said. “Sometimes we like to do that and if we would’ve just tackled him they would have had to punt it to us.”
When it came to special teams plays, Alex Eastwood had a clutch one of his own, booting a 45-yard punt right past Dupree when the game was still tight.
“The punt before got blocked and he got the next one off and fortunately caught a little wind and got it over his head, because obviously the Dupree kid was a dangerous return man and he couldn’t return it,” Bailey said.
The Bobcats then went three-and-out and once they lined up for a punt they bobbled the snap and were sacked at their own 10-yard line.
A minute later Julian was in the end zone on a 4-yard run and the outcome was decided.
“This team never quits and the guys on the sideline are rooting and into it just as much as the guys on the field,” Julian said. “Thanks to the fans, thanks to everybody.”
Donnelly led the Bobcats with 51 yards on 15 carries, as Whiteford finishes the season 6-4.