STORY BY: JORDAN MESEROLE
BRYAN — What a difference a year makes. And for the Rudder Rangers, what a difference a week can make as well.
After allowing 300 and 400 rushing yards in its first two games of the 2012 season, the Rudder defense effectively controlled the Magnolia Bulldogs run game Friday night and knocked through a game-winning field goal as time expired to defeat Magnolia 20-17 at Merrill Green Stadium.
The win for the Rangers (1-2, 1-0) came at just the right time, as they kicked off District 18-4A play against the Bulldogs (1-2, 0-1), grabbing its first win in more than a year, and it’s first district victory in more than two years.
Rudder quickly set the tone and energy of the game in the first quarter, forcing a three-and-out on Magnolia’s first offensive possession, and then promptly scoring two plays later on a 49-yard run by Rudder senior running back Tre Guyton, who scampered into the endzone practically untouched with 9:32 on the playclock.
Magnolia would chip away at the Rudder defense however, marching 67 yards down the field on a 14 play drive, capped off by a five-yard touchdown run by Bulldog junior running back Greg Solomon to tie up the score at seven with 1:28 left in the quarter. Solomon finished the night with 47 yards and the one score.
Two major penalties by the Rudder defense late in the second quarter – which have plagued the Rangers all season long – kept Magnolia’s next drive alive long enough to allow the Bulldogs to march down to the 10 yard line. On the 4th and 10 situation and with the field goal unit on the field, Magnolia ran a fake field goal to perfection, as senior Woodman Nigh lofted a pass to junior Noah McGowan who fell across into the endzone, pushing the score to 14-7.
Coming out of halftime, Magnolia once again chipped away at the Rudder defense, moving the ball down the field on an 11-play drive, tacking on a 22-yard field goal by Nigh with 7:39 in the 3rd quarter to move the score to 17-7.
It would be the last scoring play allowed by Rudder though. The defense suddenly came awake, late in the third quarter, including racking up two large sacks on consecutive drives forcing Magnolia to punt both times. The defense held Magnolia to just 34 rushing yards and 37 passing yards in the second half, after allowing 76 yards and 73 yards respectively in the first half.
It bough the offense enough time to get clicking, and after a big 4th-and-12 completion by Rudder senior quarterback Luke Piper to keep a late fourth quarter drive alive, Rudder got back on the board with 7:35 left in the game on a 27-yard field goal by Colton Bayer, edging the score the 17-10. Piper finished the night with 82 passing yards with 11-of-15 completions.
After forcing another three-and-out against the Magnolia offense, the Rangers marched down the field to tie the game up on a 4-yard touchdown run by Guyton with just 3:10 left in the game. Guyton finished the night as the top offensive producer, racking up 135 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
With the score at 17-17, the Magnolia offense was rapidly marching down the field and easing time off the fourth quarter clock and appearing to get in a situation to score a late touchdown or game-winning field goal. But on a long third down situation and 0:27 on the clock, Magnolia quarterback Noah McGowan launched a deep pass that ended up in the hands of Rudder’s Darrien Williams around the 10-yard line, who returned it 60 yards deep into the opposite end of the field.
And with just 0:01 remaining in the game, Rudder head coach C.M. Pier sent Colton Bayer in for the 22-yard field goal attempt, who sent the ball easily through the uprights for the game winning score. Both field goals for Bayer were his first this season.
Rudder looks to continue its new winning streak next Friday, as the Rangers travel to Huntsville to face off against the Hornets at 7:30 p.m.