It was one of the burning questions regarding the Vandalia football team heading into the 2008 season.
How would an entirely new starting backfield produce?
The question was addressed quickly and emphatically Friday night at Mark Greer Field.
The answer? Nicely. Very nicely.
In fact, the only question that remains after the Vandals’ 55-12 Week 1 waxing of Sangamon Valley is how coach John Stout is going to keep his enviable stable of running backs happy.
Vandalia showed off its backfield depth in posting the program’s seventh-best single-game rushing total (398 yards on 47 carries), with seven Vandals breaking off runs of 10 yards or more and five of those backs finishing with at least 40 yards on the ground.
It all added up to an eye-popping 8.5 yards per carry, helping VCHS rack up the third-highest point total in program history, despite just two pass attempts all game.
‘We’ve got of a lot of weapons,’ Stout said. ‘And I think our quickness showed.
‘I thought we came out pretty sharp offensively and executed pretty well.’
To say the least.
The Vandals didn’t punt a single time all night, as all but two of their 10 possessions resulted in touchdowns, with the other two ending in inconsequential turnovers.
‘I’m just really pleased, overall,’ Stout said. ‘We had very few mistakes, even though we had a couple of turnovers that led to touchdowns. We were pretty sharp for the first night.’
The Vandals were nearly flawless in the opening quarter, with an illegal procedure penalty being the only blemish in a period that ended with the Vandals enjoying an eye-popping 28-0 lead.
Four different Vandals – Jake Etcheson, Cody McGee, Drew Bell and Nick Slagle – quickly put the Vandals in position to score by running the ball effectively on VCHS’s opening drive.
Mitch Whightsil then christened the Vandals’ scoring barrage by hauling in a short pass from Bell and breaking a tackle on his way to a 24-yard touchdown score.
The play seemed to foretell a big night for the Vandals’ top returning offensive player. But Whightsil suffered a mild injury in the second quarter and touched the ball just one more time all night.
However, thanks to a tremendous collective effort, the Vandals didn’t skip a beat, taking turns showcasing their individual talents for the rest of what would turn out to be the third-highest scoring half in program history.
First, Jake Etcheson exploded up the right sideline for a 46-yard gain on the first play of the Vandals’ second possession, scoring from three yards out a play later.
Slagle then made the Storm pay for a disastrous possession with a touchdown run from 3 yards out. Sangamon Valley set the Vandals up for an easy score by fumbling a punt snap deep in its own territory.
The Storm helped the Vandals out again about a minute later, as Bell picked off a Mason Baker pass and scored from 20 yards out. After adding his fourth PAT in 11 minutes, Bell and the Vandals found themselves up 28-0 before the start of the second quarter.
The Storm temporarily brought the Vandals back down to Earth at the start of the second quarter, as Bruce Stoltz stripped the ball from a VCHS running back and got Sangamon Valley on the board with a 67-yard return.
But the Vandals answered less than 30 seconds later, as Slagle countered with a 50-plus yard kickoff return before ripping off a 36-yard touchdown run two plays later.
It was Cody McGee’s turn to shine on the Vandals’ next possession, as the senior fullback had a pair of 11-yard runs prior to a 20-yard TD run.
Vandalia took a 42-6 lead into the locker room, as its improved depth and quickness was on full display.
‘I like the way McGee ran, especially late in the first half,’ Stout said. ‘Jake has always been very quick. Nick’s always been quick. I think they showed that to the outside. And Drew Bell showed he could run the option and get out there on the perimeter and get some yards.’
With the game in hand, Stout opted to get some of his younger players some playing time in the second half.
‘We wanted to give our juniors a lot of reps in there, so we basically came out in the second half with a whole new offense – especially up front,’ Stout said. ‘And I think those guys moved the ball pretty well, too.’
With a number of newcomers on the field, the Vandals didn’t dominate quite like they did in the first half, but they certainly held their own.
Sophomore running back Cory Bunker was particularly impressive, going for more than 60 yards on the ground in the second half, including a 10-yard touchdown run.
Classmate Matt Hubbart added a touchdown run in the fourth quarter, becoming the seventh different Vandal to reach the end zone.
Though Stout was pleased with his running attack, he expects the Vandals to be much more balanced down the road.
‘We didn’t even use Whightsil that much, and I think we only attempted two passes the whole game,’ Stout said. ‘That’s something we didn’t break out, but we’ve got good receivers, too.’
Despite all the offensive exploits, the Vandals were solid defensively as well, holding the young Storm to less than 100 yards of total offense.
The Vandals had nine tackles for a loss, including four by senior defensive tackle Tim Dunahee. Dunahee led Vandalia with 10 tackles, overall.
Already inexperienced, the Storm suffered a huge blow on the game’s opening kickoff, as returning two-way standout Jack Prytherch suffered a serious ankle injury before the game’s first play from scrimmage.
‘We saw him last year when we scouted them,’ Stout said. ‘He was a middle linebacker and a guard. I knew they moved him to fullback and I’m sure he was a guy they were counting on. To have him go down on the opening kickoff is a shame.’