CHURUBUSCO – Entering the season, one could point to inexperienced linemen as perhaps the biggest question mark for Class A, No. 5 Churubusco.
After Friday's 28-9 home victory over three-time defending NECC small-division champion Eastside, Eagles coach Paul Sade has found answers aplenty.
“I'm happy with the way our young kids are playing,” Sade said. “Some kids are playing positions they've never played before, particularly on the offensive line. Our linemen played with good pad level and kept their feet moving. They were bigger than us, and in a lot of ways they were faster than us, and I thought our kids did a good job blocking the linebackers and playing up front.”
Take Reese Wicker, for example, who shined on both sides of the ball. The 245-pound sophomore lineman helped open huge holes on the offensive front, as Churubusco (4-0, 1-0 NECC) finished with 358 rushing yards. On defense, Wicker sacked Eastside's Caleb Ballentine twice while helping limit the Blazers to just 52 yards on the ground.
And there was beauty in the simplicity of Wicker's – and the Eagles' – success at limiting what Eastside (2-2, 0-1) could do.
“I focused on getting my hands on defense and getting my steps on offense,” Wicker said.
Blazers coach Todd Mason credited Churubusco defensive coordinator Zach Dock for his masterful game plan as well. Eastside did find some success with the short passing game, but with Churubusco taking away the deep ball, three first-half drives inside the Eagles' 25 netted only a second-quarter Brock Holman field goal.
“You have to give the Churubusco staff credit,” Mason said. “They took some things away from us that we like to do. We have some receivers that can stretch the field, and (Dock) did a good job of taking away the deep ball.
“As an offense, we have to get better at taking what the defense gives us. We did that at times, but we forced a few balls.”
Sade echoed Mason's sentiments regarding Dock's plans, while also crediting his team with ensuring those plans were carried out to precision.
“It's one thing to scheme, it's another thing to get the kids on the same page and understand everything in the scouting report,” Sade said. “They have better athletes than we do, but we had some things go our way and we followed the game plan.”
Junior Nathaniel Keener nearly doubled his rushing output from last week. After a 133-yard effort against Garrett, Keener gained 242 yards and scored three touchdowns Friday, including 11 runs of at least eight yards.
“We're really young, we've stepped up and it's a big deal for us,” Wicker said. “I'm proud of all of us (on the offensive line).”
Ballentine finished 20-of-27 passing for 206 yards and an interception on a night where Eastside committed three turnovers.
Ballentine also scored the Blazers' lone touchdown, a 1-yard stretch early in the fourth to make it 14-9.