STORY BY: JORDAN MESEROLE
– BRYAN – The Rudder Ranger defense held its end of the battle Friday night against the Elgin Wildcats at Merrill Green Stadium as long as it could – but offensive woes cost the Rangers a chance at winning its only district game this season, as they lost 49-21 to the Wildcats on senior night.
The Wildcats (6-4, 2-4) scored 28 unanswered points in the second half of the game, with one touchdown coming on an interception and another on a punt return.
Even more disappointing for the Rangers (1-8-1, 0-6) on senior night is that some of those that played on varsity as freshmen just four seasons ago and had to endure a winless season then, now end their high school career with another winless season in district play.
Rudder’s offensive woes started early in the game, as on its first drive of the quarter senior quarterback Jamarcus Davenport fumbled the ball at the end of a 12-yard run. Four plays later, Elgin sophomore quarterback Te’Rel Simmons nailed senior wide receiver Aundoy Thomas in perfect stride for a 43-yard touchdown pass to put the Wildcats up 14-0.
On the next drive for Rudder, Davenport once again fumbled the ball on a handoff to senior tight end Kody Burton on the two-yard line. Burton – who normally is a defensive standout at linebacker – redeemed himself on the very next play from the defensive side of the ball, as Elgin’s Simmons fumbled the snap in the endzone, on which Burton fell on top of for the score.
Rudder’s defense continued to help out in the second quarter, as sophomore defensive back Mark Davenport recovered a fumble and ran it back 74 yards to Rudder’s end of the field. Senior Austin Baron punched the ball through on a 4-yard touchdown run three plays later to narrow Elgin’s lead to 21-14.
Davenport would step up again just three minutes later on defense, picking off a ball and returning it 27-yards to once again set up the Rudder offense. Baron – who came in the game for the regular quarterback Davenport after he injured his ankle in the first quarter – launched a 13-yard pass into double coverage which was tipped into the hands of senior receiver Brenden Steptoe, tying the score at 21-21 just before halftime.
Baron finished the night with 58 passing yards on six completions, and added 15 more rushing yards along with his two scores. Junior running back Tre Guyton finished the night as the Rangers’ top rusher with 154 yards on 19 carries, the fifth time this season Guyton has broken the century rushing yard mark.
The second half would not be as much a positive for the Rangers however.
On its first drive of the third quarter, Baron slung an errant pass into the hands of Elgin junior defensive back Richard Robinson. The Rudder defense held Elgin to a short three-and-out on the next possession, giving the ball back to the offense. But Baron once again made a hasty pass to the wrong team, on which Wildcats senior defensive back Geno Perez ran the interception back 46 yards for the touchdown to give Elgin the lead once again.
On Rudder’s next offensive drive, a 35-yard punt by senior Sheldon Johnson was returned 88 yards down the sideline by Elgin’s Thomas. Thomas finished the night as the Wildcats’ top receiver with 77 yards and a score, along with being their top kick-returner in the game.
From there, it was more offensive struggles by the Rangers who could barely get past mid-field, and the Wildcats’ Simmons drove the team the rest of the way to victory, adding two more scores to push the final score to 49-21. Simmons finished the night with 167 passing yards, and added another 71 on the ground to compliment his three overall touchdowns.
The loss meant the second time in the Rangers’ short four-year history that they finished winless in district. And adding salt to the wound, the Rangers will graduate 32 seniors this season, meaning there will be a lot of fresh new faces in starting roles next season.
Fall season 2012 football will kickoff again around August.