PIASA — Running the football is the name of the game for the Roxana Shells. In Friday's 52-20 regular-season ending win over Southwestern on the road they did it meticulously and gracefully.
The Shells compiled 508 yards on the ground and scored 7 rushing touchdowns while improving to 7-2 for the second straight season. Roxana is back in the playoffs, advancing there in consecutive campaigns for the first time since going three years in row from '01-03.
Southwestern closes the season at 3-6.
“I don't think this comes from just us at varsity,” Roxana head coach Pat Keith said. “All these kids have been through our junior football league program and we've had some steady coaches there. They're all doing the same thing from younger ages and coming through our system. I'm happy for the kids, the program and the school. This should be everybody's expectation.”
Sophomore running back Jordan Hawkins eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau on Friday. Hawkins rushed for 100 yards on 9 carries in the game and scored a pair of TDs. He now has 1,030 yards on the season through just seven games, after moving to fullback in Week 3.
“It's amazing to talk about, but first things first, the credit goes to the offensive line,” Hawkins said of his running feat. “They're the best around here I think. They're one of the best offensive lines and it's a pleasure to run behind them.”
He was joined in the powerful ground game by a trio of seniors on Friday. Jarod Foiles led the rushing attack with 138 yards on 7 carries and one score, while Talon Pile had 5 carries for 83 yards and 2 TDs and Blake Vandiver returned to the lineup, hauling the rock 3 times for 38 yards and 2 TDs.
Keith raved about his rushing attack. They ran the ball hard on Friday and he was happy to see it.
“Our philosophy is run the football,” Keith said. “That's what we hang our hat on and these guys all run hard. The offensive line is playing well recently. The big thing now in these games is to just hang onto the football. It's about ball control football and keeping our defense off the field as much as we can and scoring points. That's our motto to run the football.”
As for the emergence of Hawkins, Keith said it's been a welcomed addition.
“He's pretty impressive and he's had a nice year for us so far,” Keith said. “We tried to use him on the O-line, but we needed to fill spots and Jordan's done a great job.”
Vandiver's return to the lineup was a highlight, too. He missed two games with a shoulder injury and was showcased Friday in a playoff preview performance with some early reps.
“He needed to play tonight, because No. 1 it's his senior year and No. 2 we've got to make sure he can do it,” Keith said. “We want to keep him as healthy as possible, but he needed to get some action tonight to see how he felt and how he could do.”
It was Vandiver striking early for the Shells, punching it in from 4 yards out at the 8:12 mark of the first quarter. Hawkins logged the 2-point conversion to put Roxana ahead 8-0.
An interception by Dreyton Daugherty and 45 yard return set the stage for Hawkins' first score from 5 yards out at the 7:16 mark of the opening quarter. Foiles then scored on a 2-point attempt to make it 16-0.
Vandiver tacked on a 27-yard TD run and Foiles' 2-point try catapulted the Shells in front 24-0 at the close of the first quarter.
“That's been our philosophy, just pound it down their throats,” Hawkins said. “It's like that with everybody we face, take time off the clock and pound it down their throats.”
Pile joined the fun with a 4-yard score in the second quarter to skyrocket the lead to 30-0. The 2-point attempt failed.
Roxana took a comfortable 46-12 lead into the break. Foiles scored on a run of 5 yards and Pile rumbled in from 12 yards out. Southwestern scored on a 4-yard TD pass from Caleb Robinson to Ryan Paslay and a 3-yard strike from Robinson to Scott Kasting.
Hawkins tacked on a 4-yard run at the 9:38 mark of the third quarter to kick start the running clock with the lead climbing to 52-12.
The Piasa Birds got a 38-yard TD strike between Robinson and Jacob Ritzhaupt late to complete the final score.
Defensively, Trey Kelley produced a fumble recovery, Ryan Harris logged a sack and 11 total tackles. Pile also had 11 total tackles, including a team-high 9 solo tackles.
Now the Shells will await to find where they may land in the playoffs. They are teetering between Class 3A and 4A, but it doesn't matter to them. They will gather as a team Saturday night to watch the playoff pairings show on www.ihsa.org at Roxana High.
“We just have to prepared to play whoever we get matched up against,” Hawkins said.