MURRAY — It didn’t take long for Murray to flex its muscles during its Eight-Man first round playoff matchup against Twin Cedars here Wednesday night, as the Mustangs held a 30-0 lead after the first quarter and took a 62-0 lead with 4:44 remaining in the first half.
The Mustangs also didn’t show any signs of slowing down without leading rusher Andrew Rider, who broke his arm in the regular season finale on Friday.
Sophomore Seth Nerness stepped into Rider’s running back position and made the most of his opportunity, rushing for 102 yards and three touchdowns, while also catching 2 passes for 66 yards and one score.
“We talked about that all weekend as far as preparation, we wanted to come out,” head coach Keith Shields said. “We’ve got some new guys in the mix there after losing Andrew Rider, our starting running back. We had some guys, Seth Nerness did a good job stepping in there and running the ball, which we knew he would. He’s rotated in there a lot during the year.”
Faster than a speeding bullet, less than two minutes into the game, Murray was on the board with a 33-yard touchdown run by Nerness after quarterback Austin Halls ran downfield on an option play and pitched out just before getting tackled, allowing Nerness to finish the run.
Quicker than a hiccup, Murray suddenly had a 30-0 lead with 1:23 to go in the first quarter after a Halls touchdown pass to Matthew Johnston, a Halls rushing touchdown on a draw play, and a screen pass to Nerness for a TD.
“We knew they wouldn’t give up,” Shields said, “but we kind of wanted to get them hanging their heads early.”
Murray certainly did that, as Nerness punched it into the end zone for another touchdown on the second play of the second quarter to go up 38-0.
On the second play of the ensuing Twin Cedars drive, Sam Rockhold applied pressure on Sabers quarterback Brent Parker deep in the backfield, forcing an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
“I thought we needed a big play out of our defense,” Shields said. “We’ve played solid on defense, but we haven’t been a real dominating defense against bigger, stronger teams than us, so I thought that was a big momentum booster for us. Not only to finish out the half, but it was real demoralizing for them, as well.”
Murray held Twin Cedars to 1 rushing yard in the first half, and just 11 rushing yards in the game.
The rest of the first half looked a lot like an avalanche crashing down on an unsuspecting victim, as Murray scored three more touchdowns in a span of 5:15 to take a commanding 62-0 lead into the half.
With an insurmountable lead, and a running clock in the second half, Shields opted to rest his starters and let the reserves get playing time.
While Murray didn’t score again in the second half, Shields did see some positives from his group of young players.
“Our younger guys did some nice things, getting first downs and things,” Shields said. “It was a pretty good opportunity for those young guys to get the taste of being in a playoff game, and it will pay off for us down the line, I think.”
And, perhaps most importantly for the Mustangs, it allowed them to walk away from the field Wednesday night without suffering any more injuries.
Already without leading receiver Cody Scroggie, who suffered an ankle injury in an Oct. 13 win over East Union, the injury to Rider last week was another big blow.
“It’s great when you walk off the field without any injuries,” Shields said. “Our kids stepped in and played well. It’s impossible to replace Andrew. He works as hard as anyone I’ve ever been around as far as the weight room and everything. We had guys step up and that’s what is going to have to happen if we want to continue here in this postseason.”
Murray, now 10-0 for the season, advances to host Colo-Nesco at 7 p.m. Monday in the second round after Colo-Nesco knocked off Melcher-Dallas 58-42 Wednesday night.
The Mustangs were an 87-44 victor at Colo-Nesco on Oct. 5.
Murray 62, Twin Cedars 19
Twin Cedars 0 0 6 13 - 19
Murray 30 32 0 0 - 62
M — Seth Nerness 33 run (Austin Halls run), 10:09
M — Matthew Johnston 10 pass from Halls (Nerness run), 6:04
M — Halls 13 run (Johnston pass from Halls), 4:30
M — Nerness 66 pass from Halls (2-pt. failed), 1:23
M — Nerness 1 run (Nerness run), 11:45
M — Safety, 10:51
M — Nerness 25 run (Sam Rockhold pass from Halls), 9:59
M — Matthew Barnes 27 pass from Halls (Barnes pass from Halls), 7:17
M — Corey McCracken 1 run (2-pt. failed), 4:44
T — Levi Jones 37 pass from Brent Parker (2-pt. failed), 9:25
T — Drew Carlson 48 fumble recovery (2-pt. failed), 4:17
T — Jones 14 pass from Parker (Max Wautrin kick), :16
Rushing: T - Drew Carlson 3-24, Brent Parker 7-(-40), Tim Loeffler 5-6. M - Seth Nerness 11-102, Austin Halls 6-44, Matthew Barnes 7-38, Zane Hatfield 2-22, Corey McCracken 4-14, Dalton Winship 1-10, Scott Funke 2-5, Dustin Miller 1-1, Sam Rockhold 1-0, Dylan Callstrom 5-(-1).
Passing: T - Parker 9-21-2 for 159 yards. M - Halls 10-18-1 for 181 yards.
Receiving: T - Jones 7-140, Carlson 1-19. M - Nerness 2-66, Barnes 2-30, McCracken 1-26, Eddie Otto 1-17, Rockhold 1-15, Matthew Johnston 1-13.
Tackles (solo-assists): M - Otto (2-4), Johnston (3-3), Barnes (4-2), Devin Shields (3-2), Halls (1-1).
Interceptions: M - Otto 1, Halls 1.
Sacks: M - Alex Youngquist 3.