ROXANA — It was a big night Friday at Charlie Raich Field for the Roxana Shells.
The Shells got a monkey off their back that had been there for a long time — 13 years to be exact — by beating South Central Conference powerhouse Greenville 49-36. Bill Smith was head coach the last time Roxana topped the Comets 42-20 in 2002.
The Homecoming victory elevated the Shells to 3-2 on the season, while the loss dropped Greenville to a surprising 1-4.
“That's crazy, 13 years,” Roxana running back Blake Vandiver said, grinning ear to ear after the win. “I was four years old the last time we beat them.”
Head coach Pat Keith was happy to get the win over the Comets, too. They are the annual juggernaut in the SCC and he respects what head coach Todd Hutchinson does with the program.
“They are definitely the team to look up to in the conference,” Keith said. “Their streak has been pretty impressive over the last 10 years and I think coach Hutchinson does a great job with the program. It's a great program and we were lucky enough to hold on tonight. It got interesting there at the end, but it's a good win for our program.”
The highlights were plentiful for the Shells. Three running backs — Vandiver, Jordan Hawkins and Jarod Foiles — eclipsed the century mark on the ground, two crucial interceptions on defense and biggest of all, two huge fourth down stops on short yardage on defense. All those things combined made for the impressive win.
Keith was proud of it all.
“I think it's both. I think our defense has played a lot better the last three weeks,” he said. “We've had some big stops these last two weeks and that's a good thing for us. Hopefully we keep running the football, but the defense has been improved the last three weeks.”
Cornerback Zach Golenor supplied the exclamation point for Roxana in the fourth quarter. After a late score by the Comets in the fourth quarter to cut it 49-36, they tried a successful onside kick, recovering the ball at midfield.
The tide looked like it could be turning, but on the first play from scrimmage, Golenor read wide receiver Brady Simpson's route, jumping in front of him and snaring quarterback Ryan Hutchinson's pass for his second interception of the game. It sealed the deal for the Shells.
Hutchinson and Simpson hooked up for three touchdowns in the game.
“He ran a post and I jumped on the route and it fell right into my hands,” Golenor said.
Keith added, “You never feel safe in a game with them. Those picks were big and those stops were big and I'm happy for our kids.”
It didn't start well for Roxana Friday. After both teams punted on their first possessions, Hutchinson hooked up with Simpson on a 64-yard scoring strike at the 8:09 mark of the first quarter. The extra point failed, but the Shells were down 6-0.
Roxana answered with a time consuming possession, going 41 yards on 10 plays, capped by Vandiver squirting in on a two-yard run on fourth down. Riley Ripper booted the extra point, making it 7-6 in favor of the Shells.
Hutchinson and Simpson connected again at the 6:37 mark of the second quarter for a 15-yard TD strike. This time Christian Moss ran in the two-point conversion and Greenville regained the lead 14-7.
A six-yard run by Hawkins got the Shells back on the scoreboard with 2:52 to play in the first half, but the extra point was missed, leaving them down 14-13.
Golenor's first interception came on the very next play, giving possession right back to Roxana. The Shells made the most of it.
Facing a fourth-and-six, quarterback Chance Foss found tight end Trace Gentry on a 15-yard pass to set up first-and-goal in the waning seconds of the half. Foss then rolled out to his left and scurried in on a five-yard score as time expired. Vandiver punched in the two-point try and the Shells headed to the locker room back on top 21-14. They wouldn't trail again.
Vandiver tacked on two more TD runs in the second half, a four-yard run where he broke a tackle and changed direction for a score, and 45-yard burst into the end zone.
Jarod Foiles also had an 18-yard TD run and Foss found Talon Pile for a 21-yard passing TD for the final score.
As important as the offense though were two big fourth down stops by the defense. Foiles made a tackle on a fourth-and-one to stop Greenville following a Roxana fumble on the previous possession. Then it was Ryan Harris making another fourth-and-one stop. Both stops came in the fourth quarter.
“Those were big momentum changers,” Golenor said. “Both offenses were moving the ball well and we just got big stops at the right time.”
As for the pounding rushing attack of the Shells, Hawkins led the way with 24 carries for 143 yards and a score, Vandiver hauled the rock 13 times for 136 yards and three TDs and Foiles ran it 12 times for 108 yards. Vandiver said the credit goes to the offensive line.
“I'm nothing without that O-line,” Vandiver said. “You look at me and I'm small and fast, but without them I'm nothing. Then Jordan Hawkins opening stuff up, I don't know how to describe it. I love those guys like brothers and I can't thank them enough.”
So a season that began 0-2 has turned into 3-2 and the Shells look to be on the right track for another successful season. Keith said it's a week-to-week process though and it's on to 3-2 Litchfield next week for another grueling South Central Conference affair.
“Hopefully we can keep it going and get a couple more wins and put ourselves in a position for the playoffs, that's our goal,” Keith said. “But we just have to take it a week at a time. Litchfield is next week. We've got three road trips in four games and that's the big thing for us, the road trips.”
Fortunately the Shells are 2-0 on the road, while just 1-2 at home in 2015.