Thursday, September 5, 2019

Spartan work ethic pays dividends

Jarrett Stevenson carries the ball for St. Joseph-Ogden
Running back Jarrett Stevenson carries the ball during first half action. The senior ran for 173 yards and scored four touchdowns against St. Thomas More. See more photo from the game here ... (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)

Before the team played its first down, Chance Izard predicted this was going to be an exciting season of St. Joseph-Ogden football. If last Friday's 36-8 win over visiting St. Thomas More in their Illini Prairie Conference opener is an indicator of things to come, it looks like there will be no shortage of thrilling moments this season.

"We have a new group of guys and new chemistry," he said days ahead of the team public scrimmage. "We are all willing to put in the work."

After St. Thomas More's Eivory Shellman scored on a short 5-yard run for the first six points of the contest and a successful two-point conversion on a pass play, the score shock quickly wore off for the Spartans.

"I thought the defense responded so well after not preparing for that style of offense. Coach Watson has never really ran that offense before anywhere," explained fourth year head coach Shawn Skinner talking about early defensive miscues. "(We) hadn't prepare for that style of offense. Yet you saw, once coach (Bob) Glazier was able to rally them on the sidelines while offense had the ball, (he) corrected some of the missed assignments and it really wasn't an issue the rest of the night."

Skinner found some comfort in how well many of his players, especially a good portion of them with little varsity experience, buckled down without so much as a blink. Their response led to an 8-all tie before the first quarter ended.

"They just ran it. Down. The. Field," Skinner said, with a hint of pride as he recounted how team quickly fell into doing the jobs they had been trained to do. "They just went back to work. That's the response we wanted."

St. Thomas More's main issue was the response from Jarrett Stevenson.

The senior, who found his way on the field toward the end of the 2018 season, averaged an impressive 8.6 yards per carry against them. After his four-yard plunge and two-point conversion in the first quarter to tie up the score, Stevenson would entered the end zone three more times by the game's end. He wouldn't take all the credit himself.

"My line was incredible. My fullbacks were incredible," he said praising their efforts. "It was insane. It was the best blocking I've ever seen."

Thanks to the strong pushes in the trenches by the offensive line, Stevenson finished the night with 173 rushing yards. Four touchdowns and almost 200 yards isn't a bad way to start a last year of your prep career on the gridiron. It was a huge payout of dividends from his hard work to prepare for the season this past summer.

"He is the strongest kid on team. He works extremely hard," Skinner said while commenting on Stevenson establishing himself as the go-to guy this season. "He has an incredible desire to be successful. We need him to be that guy."

And there was the rest of the Spartan running corp that the Sabers could not contain easily as well on Friday. SJO averaged 7.5 yards per carry as a team and not with just the help of veteran seniors. Sophomores Coby Miller and Keaton Nolan saw varsity action combining 65 yards between the two of them on eight attempts.

And despite his number being called only three times during the 48 minute contest, Brayden Weaver finished the night with smaller numbers. His modest 38 yards and touchdown were equally impressive.

He said without Stevenson he wouldn't have been able to score on his 34-yard run on the north side of the field into the west end zone. After shedding tacklers on his way to the goal line on the play, Weaver dove the last two yards into the end zone with a St. Thomas More defender hanging on.

"Jarrett Stevenson will be in the headlines for his touchdowns and however many yards he had," Weaver said while talking about his scoring run. "He made the best block on the night on that play. If that didn't happen I wouldn't have got in, even with all the broken tackles."

Weaver also recovered one of two STM's fumbles while playing on the defensive side of the ball.


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