With senior running back Brandon Patterson out due to injury, it was running back by committee for the Platte Canyon Huskies Friday night in their Class 1A Foothills opener against the Clear Creek Golddiggers.
That committee, led by halfback Matthew Bracknell and quarterback Allen Hardey, was nothing short of spectacular in a hard-fought 38-28 victory.
The real difference for the Huskies, however, now 1-4 overall and 1-0 in conference play, was an offensive line that consistently provided huge running lanes and dominated the line of scrimmage from start to finish.
Bracknell and Hardey combined for 323 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the game, while the Huskies pounded out 400 yards on the ground as a team. The Huskies as a team averaged 7.3 yards per carry on 55 running plays.
Bracknell, a track standout as a sophomore last spring, spent much of the evening gliding through the Golddigger’s secondary on 17 carries, 157 yards and a touchdown. Bracknell, who averaged an astonishing 9.2 yards per carry, also had a stellar game from his safety position, where he picked off a pass and returned it more than 40 yards to preserve the Huskies 8-0 lead just before halftime.
“I knew I would get more carries tonight with Brandon out, but I didn’t know it would be quite that many,” Bracknell said. “We started double-teaming number 67 and the holes started to open up almost every time.”
The second half featured more than its share of explosive offensive plays from both teams, and the lead changed hands numerous times until Platte Canyon finally pulled away late in the fourth quarter. The Golddiggers (1-4, 0-1), in fact, before a jam-packed homecoming crowd, led 22-16 at the end of three quarters.
In addition to being the first win of the season, and the first conference win for the Huskies, the victory was also the first for head coach Lance Gunkel.
“It feels great,” Gunkel said. “These kids have worked so hard, it is awesome to finally get over the hump. This is a great venue for high school football, and it was a huge win for us here tonight.”
Perhaps the most relieved member of the Huskies to finally get the proverbial monkey off his back with a win was sophomore quarterback Hardey. Hardey essentially put the team on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, carrying on quarterback keepers straight up the middle five consecutive times with his team clinging to a 30-28 lead. The drive, which began on the Huskies own 33-yardline with about seven minutes left to play, ended on a three-yard Hardey run into the end zone.
The touchdown was set up on a 24-yard highlight-reel type run in which Hardey was completely covered up by Clear Creek defenders at the line of scrimmage but somehow broke free for a 24-yard scamper deep into Golddigger territory.
“We told ourselves this game would be the turning point, and that our season was going to change right here tonight,” Hardey said. “We came in here angry, and determined. Once all the pieces came together, I knew we’d get it done.”
When asked about the drive in which he carried the ball repeatedly right into the teeth of the Clear Creek defense, the sophomore said he was happy to do the work for his team.
“I wanted the ball, and was asking for it because it was working for us,” Hardey said.
The head coach was happy to oblige.
“Hey, they weren’t stopping it,” Gunkel said. “I was going to keep running the play until they showed they could stop it.”
Hardey finished with 166 yards on 24 carries and three touchdowns.
The Golddiggers never did stop the quarterback keeper to Hardey, and the group most responsible for that success included, but was not limited to, offensive linemen Jacob Ebbs, Mike Dean, Ben Hatz, Austin Miller and Jonathan Hannigan. The defensive line of the Golddiggers enjoyed a size advantage over the smaller offensive front of the Huskies. But that advantage was not enough, and Clear Creek defenders were consistently whipped in the trenches, especially during the latter portion of the game.
The most telling plays of the game came in the fourth quarter. Down 22-16, Hardey took the ball around the left side, broke outside containment and found only one defender between him and the end zone. Hardey promptly ran directly through the Clear Creek safety for an electrifying 56-yard score as the Huskie’s sideline erupted in celebration.
On their next possession, Clear Creek hammered out several first downs and looked to have the Huskies on their heels. Facing third down and 10 yards to go from their own 40, Golddigger quarterback Bode Baker attempted to hit a teammate with a softly-thrown screen pass. The pass never reached its intended destination, however, because Hatz sprang into the air, reeled the ball in with one hand, and romped 40 yards to pay dirt.
Hatz’s huge play, followed by a two-point conversion by Darius Boyer, gave the Huskies a 30-22 lead that they never relinquished, while the Clear Creek defense seemed to weaken late in the contest, the Huskie’s defense seemed to get stronger. Hardey, Bracknell, Hannigan, Miller, Ebbs, Dean, Evan Grafner, Eli Giles, Boyer and Keith Giles all made huge plays at pivotal junctures of the game.
The Huskies will return to the friendly confines of home next week in what figures to be a huge game against the Jefferson Saints. The Saints, Huskies and Sheridan Rams were all winners last week, and figure to be the top three Foothills League contenders.