Like in the first quarter, Grain Valley needed just a handful of plays to score starting the third quarter. This time, the host Eagles made it stick.
Holding a 17-14 halftime lead against Ruskin, Grain Valley got a 41-yard touchdown on Cole Keller's quarterback keeper on the third snap and rolled from there to a 51-14 homecoming win at Moody Murry Memorial Stadium.
Grain Valley compiled 364 rushing yards, led by Ethan Grasher's 181 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, as it improved to 4-4 overall in its first season in the Suburban Conference.
Part of the credit, went to Keller, said Grain Valley head coach David Allie. With star receiver Gavin Oyler out nursing a minor injury and a few drops by receivers in the first half, the sophomore finished with a mere 3-of-10 passing for 19 yards. But by making the proper reads, the kept the offense humming.
“Our quarterback did a great job putting us in the right position,” Allie said. He saw what they were in and made the call at the line.”
Keller added 89 yards and two scores on 10 carries, and Mason Guhse and Tanner Bailon contributed 59 and 34 yards, respectively, and one TD apiece.
“We try to be balanced, but obviously we'll take what they give us,” Allie said. “The defense was giving us the edge in the second half, and we didn't have to throw the ball much.”
Guhse's touchdown, a 36-yard jaunt, came on Grain Valley's fourth offensive snap. When Ruskin (1-8) muffed a shotgun snap and then had a poor punt snap resulting in a safety, Grain Valley had a 10-0 lead midway through the first.
But on the first play of the second, Ruskin quarterback Carlo Terrell found an opening for an 88-yard touchdown run.
Ruskin then got the ball at Grain Valley's 15- and 33-yard lines after fumbles, but the Eagles held on downs both times. After Bailon's 14-yard TD run, Ruskin countered with Terrell's 38-yard scoring pass to Teron White with one minute left before halftime.
After Keller's score to start the third, Grain Valley forced a punt and Grasher's 3-yard score capped a 57-yard drive. The senior back added a 52-yard scoring sprint in the fourth.
A personal foul and multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties by Ruskin on that TD led to an unusual scenario – Grain Valley kicking off from the opponent's 15.
Then the defense got into the act, as Jace Collum's interception and big return set up Keller's 8-yard keeper for a TD and freshman Colin Starr intercepted a deflected pass and took it back 52 yards for the final score.
Allie said his team's offensive success allowed the calls on defense to be more aggressive, and Grain Valley tightened up in the second half. Terrell finished 6-of-19 passing for 87 yards, and outside of Terrell's long run, Ruskin ball carriers had just 37 yards on 33 carries thanks to numerous stops in the backfield.
“We fed off each other that second half,” Allie said.
Still, after three lost fumbles and some dropped passes, he knows the Eagles need to clean up their play and be more sure-handed with the postseason looming.
“Got to keep from making those mistakes that caused us to stumble,” he said. “Unfortunately, our turnover ratio is not good this year, and these are the things we've got to get rid of.”