Photo by Bill Roseberry
Roxana head football coach Pat Keith talks to the team after defeating Greenville 49-36 in Week 5. The Shells are riding a three-game winning streak and hungry to make the postseason for the second straight season.
Senior running back Blake Vandiver has seen a lot with the Roxana Shells football team.
Vandiver was a part of the 2014 playoff team in Roxana (8-3), its first since 2003, and enjoyed the first playoff win and first postseason home game since that time to boot.
With expectations high this season, the Shells dropped their first two games, but a three-game winning streak has them riding high. After a 49-36 win over Greenville in Week 5 — the team’s first over the Comets in 13 years — Vandiver said the bond with his teammates is stronger than ever.
“We just have some special team bonding stuff,” Vandiver said. “Last year we started out 0-1, losing to Carlinville, like we do every year apparently, but then we had a light practice one day and we came in dancing and everything. Something special just clicks and something happens that makes everything go. I don’t know if it was after Pana, or what, but something clicked and we are rolling on all cylinders right now. I can’t wait for Litchfield next week.”
Roxana opened with a 48-24 loss to Carlinville in Week 1 and a 27-6 setback to powerhouse Pana in Week 2. The Cavaliers are currently 3-2, while the Panthers are rolling at 5-0.
The Shells responded by going on the road with victories over Hillsboro, 34-7, and Vandalia, 36-14, before returning home for Homecoming with the win over the Comets.
Coincidentally, Week 3 was when bruising sophomore Jordan Hawkins shifted to fullback from the offensive line. Since then the 6-foot, 200-pounder has rushed for 397 yards on 56 carries and two touchdowns. Against Greenville he went for a team-high 143 yards, a TD and a two-point conversion. Vandiver (136 yards) and senior Jarod Foiles (108 yards) joined him in surpassing the century mark vs. Greenville, with Vandiver scoring three times and adding a two-point conversion. Foiles scored once.
“Hawkins? Man, he is a big boy,” Vandiver said, his eyes widening. “As a sophomore he’s got a big load on his back. He just turned 16 about a month ago. How big that kid is and how much he’s stepping up for this team, it’s amazing.”
It’s a little reminiscent of last year, when Vandiver and Logan Reardon were tearing it up in the backfield, but Vandiver tempered that comparison.
“I don’t know about that, knowing Logan,” Vandiver said, chuckling. “He has something special about him like Logan did. The Hawk, he helps me out a lot and when you put the load on his back, he’s a stud, a great player.”
Junior defensive back Zach Golenor, who secured two big interceptions in the win over Greenville, added about Hawkins, “It helped a lot. We needed a big ol’ fullback back to run the ball for us and it’s really been helping us.”
But head coach Pat Keith said the mid-season renaissance for the Shells is attributed to more than just Hawkins’ emergence.
“(Hawkins) runs hard, runs well, but I think the difference is our guys are refocused on the little things,” Keith said. “It’s positions on blocks, all those little things have made a huge difference for us the last couple weeks.”
Vandiver admitted Roxana entered the season feeling cocky. Those losses made the Shells re-evaluate.
“We walked into this season — at least I was — pretty arrogant,” Vandiver said. “We came in here thinking we were going to run over everybody and we realized after those first two games we needed to step up; this isn’t going to be easy.”
And Roxana can’t be crowned a playoff team quite yet. A game at 3-2 Litchfield this week will be a test and the Shells will have to be road warriors much of the rest of the way.
“This year I think the conference is pretty heavy in the middle and we’re part of that middle part,” Keith said. “We’re 3-2, Hillsboro is 4-1, Carlinville’s back at 3-2, with ourselves.
“Hopefully we can keep that going. We’ve got one home game out of the last four, so hopefully we can continue this trend, play better defense and run the football.”
With contributions from the likes of quarterback Chance Foss (26 of 65, 403 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs), tight end Trace Gentry (7 receptions, 139 yards, 1 TD) and defensive lineman Billy Mathis (59 total tackles) to accompany Hawkins, Vandiver, Foiles, Golenor and others, the Shells should be fine.
“We are playing really well right now and we’re looking forward to Litchfield next week,” Golenor said. “Hopefully we can get a big win on the road.”
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