The Raiders held Independence to 105 total yards in a 28-0 win.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NORTH LIMA -- On the first offensive play of the second half of Friday's game against South Range, Independence quarterback Stephen Hitch tried to throw a sideline flare pass to wideout Steven Trattar.
Three things went wrong.
First, Hitch's throw wasn't very good, which meant Trattar never caught it. Second, the throw went backward, which meant the incomplete pass was actually a fumble. Third, South Range linebacker David Rach had seen this play a few times in the first half and read it perfectly.
"When I saw it develop, I just read the quarterback's eyes," said Rach. "Then I broke on it."
Rach dove on the ball, South Range got possession on the Independence 28 and, three plays later, junior running back Steve Bensinger scored from 16 yards out to make it 14-0.
Considering the way the Raiders' defense was playing, that was more than enough. South Range tacked on two more touchdowns anyway to make the final score 28-0 in the first meeting between the teams since the Raiders won 35-21 in the first round of the 2003 playoffs.
"In the first half, we came out flat; we were kind of in a lull," said South Range coach Dan Yeagley, who picked up his 100th career victory with an impressive 42-12 win over Mogadore last week. "We refocused in the second half and got our minds back in the ball game.
"We decided to play some football."
Independence, which lost to Rocky River last week, went 7-3 last season and just missed making the playoffs. Before the game, one of the Independence assistants looked over at another coach and said of the Raiders, "Let's hope they're not as good as they were [in 2003]."
Thing is, by the end of the season, they might be.
Despite losing 18 players to graduation, including most of their key skill players, the Raiders have looked good so far, especially on defense. South Range held Independence to just 105 total yards (Hitch accounted for 99 of those) and the Blue Devils never got closer than South Range's 20.
"Our defense did a really nice job," said Yeagley. "They helped us out a lot."
Rach, one of four returning starters, has been a starter at linebacker since his sophomore year. (He played on special teams in a few games as a freshman.) Yeagley's counting on him to make plays and provide leadership on and off the field.
"He's a good ballplayer," Yeagley said of Rach. "We're young and inexperienced and we expect a lot from him."
Rach, a wideout who sees some time in the backfield, added a 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
But it was the speedy junior Steve Bensinger that carried the biggest load in the backfield, rushing 11 times for 100 yards -- his second straight game over 100. Senior Tommy Shives, who had 94 yards rushing last week, added nine carries for 55 yards as the Raiders gained 296 yards on the ground.
"Coming into the season, we were doubted by a lot of people," said Rach, one of 13 seniors on the team. "But there was a lot of talent that was stuck behind the 18 seniors last year and they're getting a chance to play.
"We're still young and we're still inexperienced and we need to keep improving from week to week. But this is a good start."