By Kurt Ritzman
Assistant Sports Editor
It took Preston awhile to get rolling in its eight-player football postseason opener Wednesday night, but once it did, Riceville didn’t stand much of a chance.
After gaining only 23 yards and punting twice on their first two possessions and trailing 12-0 10 minutes into the game, the Trojans racked up 386 offensive yards and won 57-44.
“It feels really good, coming off an 8-1 season to start 1-0,” Preston junior running back Andrew Driscoll said. “We’ve got to look ahead to next week now and play one week at a time.”
The Trojans (9-1) host No. 10 Clarksville (9-1) on Monday. They hope they get off to a better start in the second round of postseason play.
“I wouldn’t say it was a bad start, maybe a slow or rough start,” junior running back Chase Zaruba said. “We weren’t ready to play. But we came back and battled it out.”
Preston received the opening kickoff and went three-and-out. A good punt by Logan Wilhelm forced Riceville (5-5) to start at its own 16-yard line. But that wasn’t a problem for the Wildcats and senior quarterback Justin Anderlik.
Using an unbalanced formation — which often had the center as the player closest to one sideline — Riceville marched 64 yards in five plays. Anderlik completed two passes for 25 yards and ran three times for 39 yards, including a 5-yard score.
“They had shown that overload (on film), but not quite that same formation,” Preston coach Kevin Behr said. “It was a little different. They went to a complete overload with some trips. We weren’t prepared for that, I guess. That’s me not having the kids ready to go. They came out with a ton of emotion to start the game. Especially on defense, you’ve got to play with a lot of emotion, and I don’t think we were there at the start.”
Preston started to get things going on its next drive and gained two first downs but punted again. Riceville faced second-and-15 from its own 9 early in the drive, but Anderlik ran for 36 yards into Preston territory.
The Trojans forced Riceville into fourth down at the 26, but Ryan Shedenhelm ran for 22 yards. Riceville then faced fourth-and-goal from the 1, but Anderlik punched it in.
“That’s not the first time this year they’ve gotten behind,” Behr said. “The kids seem unfazed and they keep playing hard.”
Preston sprang to life with a six-play, 43-yard drive, culminating in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Colin Larson to Zaruba on the first play of the second quarter.
The Trojans took the lead on their next possession when Larson scored on a 3-yard run, but Riceville marched down and retook the lead, 20-13.
Preston drove right back down. On second-and-6 from Riceville’s 25, Larson threw a pass to Zaruba. Anderlik came over from his safety position and seemed poised to make the interception. As soon as the ball hit his chest, so did Zaruba, separating Anderlik from the ball and driving both to the ground.
“If you can’t catch it, you’ve got to make the tackle,” Zaruba said. “I didn’t want them to get the ball.”
After two Driscoll runs for 22 yards, Zaruba scored from 3 yards out. Zaruba then ran in the extra point to give Preston a 21-20 advantage, which it took into the locker room at halftime.
“We were happy, but we realized we played a bad first half,” Driscoll said. “We had to come back out ready to play, and we did that.”
They certainly did, scoring on five of their first six second-half possessions. Four of the touchdowns were scored by Driscoll.
“We were wearing them down and running a fast-paced offense,” Driscoll said.
Not only did Preston’s offense start clicking, but the defense improved, too. Riceville ran for 141 first-half yards and only 93 in the second half. The Wildcats never got closer than six in the fourth quarter.
“We were able to make some changes at half and hold them better,” Behr said. “I think the kids had to settle in some, and we adjusted to that new formation.”
The Wildcats were able to pass, though. Of nine second-half plays that gained 10 or more yards, seven were through the air.
“We’ve got to communicate with each other, that’s the main thing,” Behr said. “Playing zone defense, we’ve got to communicate as guys go from zone to zone and area to area. We’ve just got to sharpen that up. We’ll work on it in practice.”
Preston’s last offensive play — other than a kneel-down from the victory formation — was an 8-yard touchdown run by Driscoll to put the Trojans ahead 57-38. Driscoll rushed for 219 yards and scored four touchdowns, three rushing. Zaruba finished with 94 yards rushing and three touchdowns, two rushing.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to the line,” Driscoll said. “I just read their blocks.”
Zaruba echoed those sentiments, but Behr was willing to give a little credit to his backs.
“They’re a couple of real nice skilled kids,” Behr said. “On experience they were lacking, but not on heart. They just keep gutting things out. They’ve got the natural ability to go with it. The kids said it, too. They’re both real talented kids, but we’ve got a heck of a line up front. That’s our pride. We work at that more than anything. I tell the guys all the time, ‘The reporters will ask for the running backs, but you linemen are what make the game.’”
PRESTON 57, RICEVILLE 44
Riceville 12 8 6 18 — 44
Preston 0 21 16 20 — 57
R — Justin Anderlik 5 run (pass failed), 8:55
R — Anderlik 1 run (pass failed), 2:01
P — Chase Zaruba 30 pass from Colin Larson (Colton Bormann kick), 11:50
P — Larson 3 run (bad snap on PAT), 9:08
R — Sam Back 3 run (Anderlik run), 7:35
P — Zaruba 3 run (Zaruba run), 5:53
P — Andrew Driscoll 6 pass from Larson (Zaruba run), 7:21
R — Back 1 run (pass failed), 4:29
P — Driscoll 54 run (Driscoll run), 4:12
P — Driscoll 17 run (Bormann kick), 11:52
R — Back 3 run (run failed), 10:41
R — Back 1 run (run failed), 4:09
P — Zaruba 44 run (pass failed), 3:58
P — Driscoll 8 run (Bormann kick), 1:48
R — Chris Gansen 1 pass from Anderlik (pass failed), 0:32
RUSHING — Riceville (42-238), Justin Anderlik 23-143, Sam Back 16-65, Ryan Shedenhelm 3-30; Preston (50-325), Andrew Driscoll 29-219, Chase Zaruba 12-94, Colin Larson 8-14.
PASSING — Riceville (20-39-0, 255 yards), Anderlik 19-35-0, 241 yards; R. Shedenhelm 1-2-0, 14 yards; Chris Gansen 0-1-0, 0 yards. Preston (6-9-0, 61 yards), Larson 6-9-0, 61 yards.
RECEIVING — Riceville, R. Shedenhelm 8-89, Gansen 5-71, Logan Shedenhelm 3-44, Back 3-37, Anderlik 1-14; Preston, Zaruba 2-38, Driscoll 4-23.