RUSSIAVILLE — Sometimes the best defense in football is a good rushing offense. Western proved that here Friday night as it combined strong running with solid blocking to dominate non-conference rival Frankfort 40-0 in the season opener for both teams.
Relying on a running game that produced 418 yards on 72 carries, the Panthers of second-year coach Nate Andrews, leading just 8-0 at the half, broke loose in the second half for 32 unanswered points.
Led by 5-foot-9 running back Ryan Alexander, who amassed 138 yards on 26 totes, Western drove 55 yards on its first possession to take the lead on the senior’s 4-yard burst over left tackle. The Panthers, who went for two-point conversion runs on every TD, took an 8-0 lead as Alexander skirted left end.
“It felt good,” said Alexander of the first score. “It was everything we’d worked for. My line just did their job, and I knew they were going to lead me in.”
The Hot Dogs toughened up the rest of the first half, but there were troubling omens for the visitors as Western held advantages of 119-41 in total yards and 30-17 in offensive plays.
Andrews noted, “We were making a lot of mistakes in the first half. We were playing really hard, really physical, but we were making so many errors because we were tight. We challenged them to loosen up in the second half, and when we loosened up we started to play a little bit better and we were able to put them away.”
The second half was all Panthers as they ran 45 offensive plays to just nine for Frankfort.
Western opened with a 12-play, 91-yard march that culminated in Alexander’s 14-yard scamper around left end. Halfback Christian Glenn, who gained 65 yards on just nine rushes, ran in the PAT for a 16-0 margin.
After forcing a three-and-out from Frankfort, Western went on the march again, this time crafting an 89-yard drive on 10 plays to make it 24-0 with 1:43 to play in the third quarter. Quarterback Drew Bellus made a nifty 32-yard run for the score on an option keeper around left end. The 6-2, 202-pound senior split two defenders at the 15 and breezed in for the score. He added the conversion on another option keeper.
The Hot Dogs tried to answer, driving to the Panther 33 before turning it over on downs. Western responded with another long march, going 67 yards in 16 plays and eating up more than half of the fourth quarter. Alexander scored his third TD of the night on another 4-yard plunge, and Ben Lenahan, who rushed for 100 yards on 21 carries, added the conversion for a 32-0 lead.
The Panthers, who squib-kicked all night, recovered the ensuing kickoff with 4:19 to play. Reserves Brooklyn Watters and Min Park continued the rushing onslaught, and Western added the final score on Watters’ 17-yard scamper with just 27 seconds left. Park’s conversion dive made the final 40-0.
Andrews was especially proud of his big men on the line.
“Give credit to the offensive line,” he said. “Brett Boswell, David Grimme, Sydnee Allen, Logan Shepherd and Dante Graham did a great job along with Skylar Braden as a tight end and even [wideout] Kyler Vail.”
Next week, Western travels to Eastbrook to take on the Class 3A No. 6-ranked Panthers. Last year, Eastbrook beat Western twice, including a 31-28 heartbreaker in the sectional finals.