MURRAY – Murray and East Union squared off Friday night in an 8-man District 6 battle with the Eagles pulling away late for a 30-18 win.
After not playing last week in Seymour due to severe weather postponing the game, Murray struggled on offense in its first few posessions with drives stalling out.
The Mustangs ultimately found the back of the endzone on offense with five minutes remaining in the first quarter on a 20-yard completion from Zack Belden to Jace Rodecker. The completion went for a score, with the 2-point conversion failing, to give Murray its first lead of the game at 6-0 with 5:04 left in the first quarter.
The early lead was quickly overcome by EU’s Gus McNeill scoring on an 11-yard keeper, and with the two-point conversion, the Eagles had an 8-6 lead with 5:13 remaining in the half. The lead change was the first and only of the game.
EU built on it with another score, this time a McNeill to Kael Seales connection, to make it 14-6 with just over a minute on the clock in the second quarter. The lead was retained until the final whistle with EU holding off a third quarter score from Rodecker and a fourth quarter score from Belden.
Murray head coach Taylor Fulton felt last week’s postponement had no part of how they played this week, feeling the opening and closing stages of the game for Murray was good football for the Mustangs.
“I don’t want to say that was any part of what we did or didn’t do, we still have to come out and we’ve got to execute,” said Fulton. “I thought we played pretty good the first quarter and I thought we finished strong.”
Fulton noted there was breakdowns on defense in the middle stages of the game that allowed two scores and a safety, mentioning the task of asking for perfection on both sides of the ball as “tough.”
“I don’t want to take anything away from their effort,” said Fulton. “I thought they played a great game, we just came up a little short.”
The Mustangs were led on offense by Belden’s 71 passing yards and Rodecker’s 45 receiving yards. Rodecker had two receptions for scores.
A strong pass rush created problems for Murray’s young quarterback all night.
“Zack is really athletic, but he is a freshman and he’s young and still learning the system. It’s the fifth game he’s ever played at quarterback and he’s given us a lot of options and he played well tonight. We have to find a better way to protect him,” said Fulton. “We had a lot of pressure up the middle and they had a great combo. ... Definitely some things we need to look back on in film.”
On defense the combination of Chance and Cole Lecy were all over the field for stops, combining for 24 tackles (Chance 14 1/2, Cole 9 1/2). Rilee Werner had four tackles for a loss and Rodecker had three.
Murray had a kick return go for a score as its final scoring play of the game. Belden returned a kick 41 yards for a score with 2:09 left in the game.
“I think all in all it was a really good effort. I think the guys are working hard and learning a lot and are looking forward to the next game,” said Fulton.
The win for the Eagles came off a combination of a well calculated running attack and ability to capitalize off the turnovers, both of which were led by Anthony Smith.
Smith’s Friday night saw him total 102 yards rushing on 19 attempts, scoring once, while picking off two passes from Murray’s Zack Belden.
East Union’s rushing total for Smith was something EU knew they’d be able to do if blocking permitted.
“We saw how they were going to line up throughout the week and we knew we’d be able to run it outside,” said East Union head coach Thomas Dwight. “Having wide receivers give great effort and keep their feet moving and keeping the hands inside (on blocks) and working technique (was important).”
Emmet Long rushed for 41 yards and Jarryn Stephens had 37 yards as the next leading rushers for the Eagles. Kael Seales caught McNeill’s passing score as one of his five catches for 37 yards.
A struggling Murray offense was taken advantage of on an East Union pass rush and secondary that took multiple chances to extend the drive or pick up a first down away.
Along with two interceptions by Smith, EU had Belden scrambling out of the pocket multiple times, limiting him to a 33 percent pass completion. He was sacked four times.
Seales had two solo sacks and Gauge Mitchell and Ethan Ayers had sacks also. The Eagles also picked up a safety on Mitchell’s sack, getting to Belden while Murray was backed up on the goal line in the third quarter, and got a fumble recovery on the 1-yard line which led to a score.
UP NEXT – Murray plays Friday against Lenox with kickoff coming at 7 p.m. East Union will play Lamoni with kick off coming at 7 p.m. Friday.
Murray’s postponed bout against Seymour will be played next Monday (Oct. 14) at 7 p.m.