Coach Dustin Baldwin has been looking for a 200-yard rushing performance all year. Friday night at Branson, the Tigers racked up 315 rushing yards on the way to a 56-35 victory.
Republic gave the ball to seven different players on running plays, and five of them ended the night with at least 15 rushing yards. Skyler Owen led the way with 101 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Riley Watkins rushed the ball 16 times for 97 yards and two TDs. Cam Flood had one carry—his first of the year—and took it to the end zone on a 68-yard run. Adam Batz had his biggest run of the year when he rumbled for 24 yards on a play in the 2nd half. He ended with 25 yards rushing. Lucas Hayes, who saw brief action at quarterback late in the game, contributed 15 yards on three carries.
“It was a fun night. Everything kind of clicked. The kids made plays,” says Baldwin. “What was great about tonight was we got contributions from a lot of different people. When we’re in a spread offense like we have, when everybody on the field is a threat to do something, it makes it a lot harder to cover. When we’re able to get a lot of people involved, we become a lot better, and you saw it tonight.”
Watkins had his best, most efficient passing night of the year, completing nine of 14 passes for 215 yards and four touchdowns. Jake Jones had 94 receiving yards and a TD.
“Moving Jake Jones into our Y spot in our spread looks gives us a lot more speed on the field, and we like what we’re seeing out of that,” Baldwin says.
Flood caught two passes for 40 yards and a touchdown. Owen had three receptions for 62 yards and a score. Duvall and Trent Rackley also had receptions, and Rackley’s went for his first career varsity touchdown.
Yocum Automotive Drive of the Game
The Tigers put together a lot of scoring drives Friday night, but the first one was one of the most impressive. Republic took the opening kickoff and marched 63 yards on seven plays. They capped the drive with two consecutive pass completions by Riley Watkins to Skyler Owen — the first for 14 yards and the next for a 42-yard touchdown. The drive set the tone for the rest of the night, and it was our Yocum Automotive Drive of the Game.
“We’re starting to do a lot more things right up front, which makes it all go,” Baldwin says of the offense. “Other than a couple of occasions, Riley made a ton of great decisions tonight also. When you’re able to run it and throw it — when we’re able to achieve balance — good things are going to happen.”
Republic’s defense shut down Branson in the 1st half, but allowed the Pirates to move the ball after the halftime break. But three interceptions — by Jones, Jaden Duvall, and Cameron Beck — helped stymie any comeback hopes the Pirates were harboring. The Pirates racked up 502 total yards, to Republic’s 530, but every time Branson scored, Republic answered quickly to keep the game under control.
Republic scored first on its opening drive, when Watkins hit Owen for a 42-yard touchdown pass with 10:08 left in the 1st quarter. The Tigers made it 14-0 early in the 2nd quarter on a 76-yard pass from Watkins to Jones. About three minutes later, a Grant Holmes field goal from 30 yards made it 17-0 Tigers.
Branson scored for the first time on a four-yard touchdown run by Kyle Hunn, but Republic responded with a touchdown drive of its own, culminating in a 13-yard TD pass from Watkins to Rackley. That made it 24-7 with 3:20 left in the half. Not long after, Republic capped another scoring drive with a one-yard TD run by Watkins to make it 31-7 with :17 left in the half.
Branson scored first after the break on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Still to Karson Knudsen, cutting the lead to 31-14, but on the very next play, Flood broke loose on a sweep and sprinted 68 yards to the end zone to extend the lead to 38-14. The Tigers’ next score was another one-yard run by Watkins to make it 44-14.
Hunn scored his second touchdown of the night for Branson with 2:34 left in the 3rd quarter on a ten-yard run, and it was 44-21 as the 4th quarter began.
Skyler Owen made it 50-21 on a 17-yard TD dash with 11:21 left, Branson answered, and Republic responded one more time when Watkins hooked up with flood on a 25-yard pass to make it 56-28. A late touchdown by Branson’s backup quarterback, Gabe Sylvester, on a pass to Knudsen, accounted for the final score.
Both teams are now 3-4. Republic will travel to Carthage next week. It will be the Tigers’ first visit to the new Carthage stadium, which opened this year.