PAWNEE — Late in the second quarter, Shelbyville coach Bill Duckett quickly fired up at defense.
“Woah! We got way too big of a gap here!” Duckett bellowed from the sideline.
Pawnee plowed forward, picking up one whole yard.
It was that kind of season opener for the Shelbyville Rams, who even when missing a mark quickly recovered. And in the Rams’ 64-0 Week 1 win, the high expectations were solidly met after 48 minutes of football.
“We knew coming in we could win this game, but we didn’t want to overlook Pawnee,” Shelbyville quarterback Turner Pullen said. “I mean last year’s Week 1 definitely didn’t go well, but we took it to them and everything pretty much worked for us tonight.”
Finally, after the months following a Class 2A semifinals run and after weeks of refining the little parts of a team very similar to last year’s, Shelbyville delivered in every aspect.
Pullen, starting at quarterback for his third season, only really needed his arm to dazzle Pawnee’s defense, going 9 of 14 for 207 yards and four touchdowns. His ground game was even more lethal, scoring all three times he rushed the ball (21, 8 and 1-yard scores).
But a Shelbyville offense that can fly up and down the field was expected. A first-team defense that allowed minus-53 yards in the first half was a welcome sight as well. And Duckett loves the speed his Rams can bring.
“From our defensive line that we got in there and all of our secondary and linebackers are fast,” he said. “I really feel like we can spring people out, cover people in man coverage like we did tonight and we got some fast people coming off the edges.
“Cade Helton had a killer game. Clayton Peterson, you have to double or triple him. We’ve got a lot of guys.”
It’s an aspect Duckett knows is necessary to compete at the top level of the conference and the top of the state-level talent.
“Yeah, we knew it was going to be pretty good, really about 10 or 11 guys (are back) that maybe didn’t necessarily start last year but took 80 percent of the reps,” Duckett said. “So they all played last year and got 13 games in They definitely improved, and that’s been our focus.
“We got to be better defensively, you know, for the Tuscolas and the St. Ts out there. We put a lot of time into this and it fits our defensive personnel really well.”
Clayton Peterson was his normal, ferocious self — perhaps his biggest moment came when he burst through and blocked a punt. Cree McConnell picked up a sack on the first series, Helton continually flew around the edges for tackled and one of the few new starters, Eli Houska, not only broke through a block for a sack in the first quarter, he jumped a route late in the second quarter for an interception.
“It’s a little scary coming in for guys like Lyle (Jefson) and Justin Hopper,” Houska said. “It’s kind of hard, first year starting, but it’s exciting. Get some pressure on the edge and get an interception – that was fun.”
It’s a feeling Shelbyville’s looking to carry a long way. Right now, it’s only Week 1, but after coming so close last year and the efficiency on display on Friday, the idea of a state championship game berth took another step.
“I think we’re flying around a lot more, having more fun,” Helton said. “We should do this every game, at least try to.”
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They’ve got options
It can make your head spin trying to keep track who the defensive linemen are for Shelbyville.
From big guys like sophomore Grant Mose, a 260-pound tackle, to Clayton Peterson, who’s around 160, the Rams have all different kinds of weapons at their disposal. And it’s not just having athletes with different skill sets, Duckett is confident they can excel no matter the situation.
“We feel like we have a lot guys we can rotate in defensive line-wise – kind of what Tuscola did last year,” he said. “That’s what their strength was, they had six, seven guys they could rotate through and they were all good.
“And we feel like we might have that this year. That first half, there was never the same three in there at the same time. Keep them fresh, keep them going.”
Shelbyville already was doing well with wide receivers. Kentrell Beck (45 catches, 889 yards) is back as a sophomore, and Cade Watson (604 yards), Brett Spears (409) and Mason Cameron (208) are back for their senior seasons.
Add in Jack Lopez and Pullen has no shortage of options. In fact, Lopez caught two passes and both were for touchdowns. The first catch may have been the most impressive Rams catch of the night, twisting midair and outjumping his defender.
“It’s nice having five different guys I know I can count on,” Pullen said. “Jack looked pretty good for his first varsity football game ever.”
Duckett wasn’t sporting the typical shoes for a coach on game day.
He had on white Jordans — a present he didn’t know he was going to get until just before kickoff, but he was proudly wearing them off the field with a first win under the laces.
“(The team) bought me some Js — before the game they told me it’s a good luck charm,” Duckett said. “I said what if it rains? They said you got to wear them every game. And then so I got to clean them up after the games…”
Last year, Shelbyville’s opener against Pawnee wasn’t exactly what it had in mind.
A back and forth game went south and the Rams started the year with a 33-20 loss. Friday helped erase some of that sour taste.
“Yeah it does, last year was a heartbreaker,” Helton said.