MURRAY — The Murray Mustangs made a mid-season statement Friday with a convincing 64-26 victory over previously undefeated Adair-Casey.
The Mustangs attained a mercy-rule running clock by taking a 56-20 lead in the third quarter against a Bomber squad that came into the contest ranked No. 1 in the state on the Associated Press poll, and No. 4 by the Des Moines Register.
Murray, now 5-0 and 4-0 in District 6, started the night at No. 4 on the AP list and No. 3 by the Register, one spot in front of A-C. Sunday's Des Moines Register kept the Mustangs third behind Melcher-Dallas and Exira/Elk Horn-Kimballton.
The two teams split a pair of games in 2011, with Murray claiming a 70-54 state quarterfinal victory in Adair on the way to finishing as state runner-up.
In this matchup, they traded long touchdown plays in the opening minutes. Mustang junior running back Andrew Rider, who finished with five touchdowns and 173 yards rushing, went 20 yards on the opening drive of the game for a quick 6-0 lead.
A-C answered with explosive junior running back Clayton Plowman, who went 53 yards on the pitchout on the Bombers' first play to tie it 6-6.
When tight end Sam Rockhold took a 15-yard pass from Austin Halls for Murray's second touchdown late in the first quarter, the Mustangs never trailed again.
Rider scored three times and Halls added two more rushing TDs in a wild second quarter that ended with Murray in front, 40-20.
Murray outgained A-C, 465-347, in total yards. A-C was hampered by nine penalties for 74 yards. Plowman, still affected by an early-season ankle injury, managed 135 yards on 24 carries. He entered the game with 718 yards rushing and 14 TDs in five games.
On this night, Murray simply had too many weapons. Murray took its 56-20 lead with 6:11 left in the third quarter, as Seth Nerness burst through the left side for a 19-yard TD.
Rider finished with rushing touchdowns of 20, 50 and 46 yards, a punt return TD of 55 yards and a 29-yard TD reception from Halls.
Halls finished 13-of-23 passing for 208 yards and two TDs, with the two rushing TDs as well. Although he didn't score, Murray receiver Cody Scroggie had seven catches for 77 yards.
The Mustangs had two weeks to prepare for the game, with a bye week the previous week. Extra film study and early-morning workouts had the Mustangs prepared for battle.
"We felt good coming into the game," Murray coach Keith Shields said. "We thought we matched up well speed-wise with them. The big question was, could we match up with them physically?"
The answer seems to be on the scoreboard. Halls, Rider and Scroggie all raved about the offensive line after the game, which includes 2011 returnee Eddie Otto and newcomers Cole Weir and George Barber. Rockhold is the tight end opposite Scroggie.
"Our line really stepped up this week," Scroggie said.
Both sides of the ball had a good performance up front.
"It took all eight guys out there doing their job," Shields said. "Plowman is a threat on any play, from anywhere. You can't tackle him high, and a lot of times you can't tackle him with one guy."
On many of Murray's big pass plays, the elusive Halls bought extra time by juking and spinning away from A-C defenders. After avoiding pressure, he'd motion to Scroggie or other Mustang receivers before firing the pass.
"I don't know how he does it," Scroggie said. "He just kind of points and I just start running. We've played football with each other since we were in sixth grade, so we just kind of know. He's pretty accurate."
"They bring a lot of guys, so I just try to create some time for myself," Halls explained. "Cody is a smart receiver, so when I finger-point, he gets it. We have so many athletes out there with so much speed. If our defense plays like that, we're hard to stop."
The maturation of Rider, who played as a 125-pound freshman two years ago, brings another element to the Mustang offense. He showed explosive acceleration Friday, and isn't as easy to bring down at 160 pounds.
"Just dedication and working in the weight room," Rider said after his five-TD night, including a 55-yard punt return. "Our line really stepped up."
Nerness, another speed threat on offense, led the defense from his end position with 11 total tackles. Otto had nine tackles at linebacker and Halls and Scroggie supported the front line from the secondary with nine stops each. Rockhold had two tackles for losses.
Halls' 14-yard run to cap a quick 50-yard drive in the final 1:32 of the second period was key, Shields said. The drive included a 35-yard gain on a pass from Halls to Nerness.
"I thought it was important that we got another score in the last minute of the first half after they cut the lead to 34-20," Shields said. "They were receiving the opening kickoff of the second half, and going in with a 20-point lead was key."
After the game, Shields reminded his team that it's still early, and while it's a big win in the District 6 championship race, it doesn't assure anything regarding the postseason. A-C coach Wade Andersen concurred.
"We obviously wanted to win this game, but it's early yet," Andersen said. "Against a great team, you can't have stupid penalties, and you can't miss tackles. You can't make mistakes and allow the quarterback to scramble. We have to break down and make tackles. We could meet again."
Murray hosts Moravia (0-6) of District 5 for homecoming this week.
Murray 64, Adair-Casey 26
M — Andrew Rider 20 run (pass failed), 10:15
A-C — Clayton Plowman 54 run (kick failed), 10:00
M — Sam Rockhold 15 pass from Austin Halls (Halls run), 2:04
M — Rider 29 pass from Halls (run failed), 7:44
M — Rider 55 punt return (run failed), 6:05
A-C — Charlie Terry 55 run (run failed), 5:25
M — Halls 10 run (Scroggie pass from Halls), 3:48
A-C — Emmitt Wheatley 23 pass from Gunnar Dinkla (Josh Irlmeier pass from Dinkla), 1:32
M — Halls 14 run (run failed), :56
M — Rider 50 run (Scroggie pass from Halls), 9:53
M — Seth Nerness 19 run (Rider pass from Halls), 6:11
A-C — Charlie Terry 19 pass from Dinkla (run failed), 3:37
M — Rider 46 run (Scroggie pass from Halls)
Rushing: M - Andrew Rider 14-173, Seth Nerness 8-48, Austin Halls 10-36. A-C - Clayton Plowman 24-135, Charlie Terry 6-92, Jordan Wheatley 4-18, Gunnar Dinkla 5-15, Josh Irlmeier 5-15, Traeton Jensen 1-3.
Passing: M - Austin Halls 13-23-0 for 208 yards. A-C - Dinkla 5-14-0 for 66 yards; Traeton Jensen 0-1-0.
Receiving: M - Cody Scroggie 7-77, Andrew Rider 3-60, Seth Nerness 2-56, Sam Rockhold 1-15. A-C - Emmitt Wheatley 1-23, Josh Irlmeier 2-20, Clayton Plowman 1-7.
Tackles (solo-assists): M - Seth Nerness 9-2, Eddie Otto 4-5, Austin Halls 5-4, Cody Scroggie 4-5, George Barber 3-5, RayDean Burdess 3-5, Sam Rockhold 4-2, Devin Shields 4-2.
Tackles for loss: M - Rockhold 2.