FRANKLIN GROVE – In an eight-man football shootout Friday night, it was AFC’s aerial attack pitted against Hiawatha’s big-play run game.
Hiawatha’s Cole Brantley carried the load, rushing for 263 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Hawks to a 66-38 victory at Mel Barron Field.
“My line was amazing. The holes were wide, they were perfect,” said Brantley, who also caught a 65-yard scoring strike from Chris Korb. “Some of the cuts were on me, but our line, they were dogs in there tonight. They were really battling in the trenches.”
Hiawatha (2-0) ran 37 times for 445 yards and six touchdowns, with Brantley averaging 21.9 yards per carry. Korb completed 3 of his 6 passes for 102 yards and two more scores, and also ran for a touchdown.
AFC did its damage through the air. After the Hawks intercepted two of his first three passes, AFC senior Carson Rueff finally got into a rhythm. He finished the game 27-for-64 passing for 400 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions, with favorite target Lane Koning catching 14 passes for 277 yards and all five TDs after he overcame a few drops.
“I did mess up and throw a couple of picks on the first drives, but if you want to win games out here, you’ve got to keep a cool head all game,” Rueff said. “You have to be able to overcome adversity and just roll with it.”
After AFC’s first two drives ended with interceptions, Hiawatha cashed in the second one. Brantley scored from 26 yards out for an 8-0 lead, then the next two times he touched the ball, he also ended up in the end zone.
After forcing an AFC turnover on downs, Brantley sprinted 52 yards for a touchdown on his fifth carry of the game. The Raiders (0-2) answered with a 10-yard scoring strike from Rueff to Koning to cut the deficit to 14-8, but Brantley took the first carry of the Hawks’ next series 63 yards for a touchdown, and a 20-8 lead.
After 12 yards on his first three carries, Brantley had 141 on his next three, with three TDs.
“Those early scores set the tone, and set us up to win,” Brantley said. “It shifted our moods, got us going. After we got the early lead, we were up and confident. We were playing near perfect on offense, and we were really on point tonight.”
Korb threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Lucas Norvell to cap the Hawks’ next series, then they retook possession with their third interception and a 28-8 lead.
But the Raiders forced a punt, and went 60 yards in 10 plays, with Rueff and Koning connecting on a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Hiawatha scored on the next play, as Korb hit Brantley from 65 yards out to make it 36-16. After the teams traded turnovers on downs, the Raiders went 60 yards in nine plays, with Rueff hitting Koning in the end zone for a 7-yard score on fourth down as the first-half clock expired to make the score 36-22 at halftime.
“We were able to get the short pass going early on, and then that opened up the long pass for me,” Koning said. “I was able to get open, Carson threw some really good balls to me, and we started to connect. I just had to get past the drops.”
Hiawatha opened the second half with a 2-yard touchdown run from Korb, then Brantley had runs of 21 and 67 yards on a two-play touchdown drive after a fourth-down AFC pass fell incomplete. The 67-yard scoring scamper gave the Hawks a 52-22 lead just 4:59 into the third quarter.
AFC answered with the longest drive of the game, covering 78 yards in 14 plays, capped by a Rueff-to-Koning 11-yard scoring strike with 50.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
But the Hawks stretched the lead again on the next play, as fullback Cooper Fisher burst through the line and ran in from 61 yards out for a 58-30 margin. Hiawatha then scored on defense, as a bad shotgun snap to Rueff was scooped up by Thomas Butler and returned 58 yards for a touchdown and a 66-30 lead.
AFC closed the scoring when Rueff hit Koning with a 30-yard scoring strike with 7:21 to play. Hiawatha managed to close out the game and run out the clock despite losing a fumble on its next series.
“There’s always kinks to work out after games, but I have to give a lot of credit to Blake Wiegartz; he had phenomenal coverage,” Brantley said. “Some AFC guys here and there made good catches and nice plays, and the quarterback threw some perfect balls, and there’s nothing you can do about it, just move on to the next play. But our coverage, some things need to be worked on, but I think we did a good job. We got the win – that’s what counts – and it was a good game between both teams.”
It’s the second straight week Rueff has thrown for more than 350 yards; he had 380 yards and three TDs in a Week 1 loss. Despite the 0-2 record, both Rueff and Koning feel that the offense is clicking, and can continue to do so throughout the season.
“Our linemen have been kicking it all week, doing a [heck] of a job, and the pass game just feels strong. When you have a line that gives you time, you’re able to make passing plays all day long,” Rueff said. “All my wide receivers, they can all catch the ball, so I feel very confident when my line gives me time and I have guys out there I can trust to catch the ball. It feels really good in the pocket.”
“Offensively, we felt great,” Koning added. “Our line was doing its job, our receivers were catching passes – we had a few drops here and there, and a couple of interceptions – but that’s all part of the game. Our offense did great, and now we’ve just got to step up on defense.”