NEDERLAND — In speaking with Nederland head football coach Aaron Jones a couple weeks ago, the man in charge of leading his team through the transition to 8-man football pointed out the opportunity for higher-scoring affairs at this level due to the lack of numbers in the secondary and the expansive open space receivers and quarterbacks have to work with.
But as visiting Elbert proved on Saturday in the two teams’ season opener, an effective running attack can just as easily move the ball and put points up on the board.
The Bulldogs utilized a unique offensive scheme which may best be described as a dual-wildcat formation to advance the ball up and down the field on the Nederland defense throughout the afternoon. And with the Panthers’ unit still attempting to figure out how to cover the entirety of the field while playing at full speed, EHS found little need to attempt going to the air, running up a 30-point lead before ultimately taking a 30-12 victory at Nederland High School.
“I’d say we underestimated them,” Jones said. “They had a lot of speed. We got burned a couple times on counters … We were kind of prepared for (the movement), we knew that they did a lot of shifting, and we knew they were going to run a lot of counters and reverses, but we got pinched in a few times and I thought we were going to be more disciplined than that.
“I think we made some mistakes that are correctable and we can get better next week, but these guys came and they beat us, and I give them credit.”
Elbert found success right away on the offensive end, taking advantage of a short field after a three-and-out by Nederland to start the game. The two-headed Bulldog attack was led by quarterback Shawn Graves and running back Ross Millard, who combined to run the ball on seven straight plays to begin Elbert’s first drive, culminated with the latter taking a nine-yard carry into the end zone to put EHS on top.
Graves momentarily seemed to put the Bulldogs up another score with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to go in the first quarter, but a personal foul negated a 66-yard scamper and allowed Nederland to keep the score at 8-0. While NHS was able to keep Elbert out of the end zone for the remainder of the half, the home team’s offense simply could not string together enough positive plays to threaten the visitors. The Panthers tallied just 68 yards of offense prior to intermission.
“We just had some trouble making blocks,” said senior Noah Ridnell, who provided one of the lone bright spots offensively in rushing for 37 yards in the first half. “Their ‘backers kept coming up and we couldn’t get more than a few yards at a time. We just need to work on our blocks this week (in practice).”
Elbert struck again to open the second half, when Graves took a carry 26 yards before fumbling upon meeting a Panthers defender at the goal line. Amidst the ensuing chaos, tight end Jacob Miller was able to dive on top of the loose ball in the end zone to give the Bulldogs a TD, capping a nearly 8-minute drive.
EHS continued to wear out the Panthers’ defense with its relentless ground attack, as Millard added two more short rushing touchdowns, one at the end of the third quarter and another at the beginning of the fourth. The back finished the day with 160 yards on 24 carries and the three touchdowns, while his companion Graves added another 133 yards on 21 attempts.
Though the game was out of hand for much of the fourth quarter, Nederland refused to throw in the towel and began to show promising signs on offense. After defensive back/quarterback Michael Wood intercepted a Bulldog pass in the Ned end zone, the junior led his team on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that was capped with a 11-yard touchdown toss to wideout Jack Abendroth.
Wood later connected with senior Ike Thibedeau for a 24-yard score with just seconds remaining to give his team some momentum to work with heading into next week’s home tilt against West Grand.
“They didn’t quit,” Jones said of his team. “They played hard at the end and got a couple touchdowns, and that I’m really proud of.
“There’s lots of positives. Did we think we were going to win the game? Yeah. This was a huge game for me and for them, but I don’t think they’re going to quit. It’s a good group of kids and we’ll be back to accomplish our goals.”
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Elbert 30, Nederland 12
At Nederland H.S.
Elbert (1-0) 8 0 12 10 — 30
Nederland (0-1) 0 0 0 12 — 12
Elbert — Ross Millard 9 run (Wyatt Swenson run).
Elbert — Jacob Miller fumble recovery in end zone (pass failed). Elbert — Millard 6 run (run failed).
Elbert — Millard 2 run (Millard from Shawn Graves). Elbert — Safety. Nederland — Jack Abendroth 11 from Connor Wood (pass failed). Nederland — Ike Thibedeau 24 from Wood (run failed).
RUSHING — Elbert: Millard 24-160, Graves 21-133, Swenson 5-20. Nederland: Jaron Dillon 6-13, Wood 7-21, Noah Ridnell 14-47, Kellen Sequeira 2-13.
PASSING — Elbert: Graves 3-11-1-61. Nederland: Wood 7-16-1-70.
RECEIVING — Elbert: Millard 2-30, Swenson 1-31. Nederland: Abendroth 3-10, Thibedeau 2-25, Dillon 1-(-10), Kuchenmeister 1-25.