Thomas Ritchey and Matthew Wells each ran for two touchdowns, and Wells became the third Vandal to amass more than 4,000 career yards as the Vandals opened their season with a 41-12 win at Gillespie on Friday.
Gillespie ran back the opening kickoff to lead 6-0 14 seconds into the game, but it was Vandalia that controlled the game from that point on in a rain-drenched contest.
On second down and 28 with a little more than three minutes left in the opening quarter, Wells pulled off a bootleg that allowed him to score, and Cameron Withers booted his first of six extra points to give the Vandals a 7-6 lead.
About 2½ minutes later, Ritchey scored the first of his two touchdowns on a punt return, and Withers’ extra-point kick made it 14-6.
While the Vandals continued to build up their point total, the defense was making life tough for the Miners.
Ritchey recorded a sack, and Jacob Fickes and Carson Ruot each picked off a pass.
Bradyn Kaiser recovered two Gillespie fumbles, and Mason Ess hauled in one. Ess plucked the ball from the air after the Gillespie punter kicked it into his blocking back and returned it for a score.
The Vandals gained 200 yards on 33 carries and scored four touchdowns on the ground, and Wells was connected on eight of 20 attempts to give the Vandals 126 yards in passing.
Wells also gained 35 yards on 13 carries to become one of three Vandals with more than 4,000 career yards. He joined Trevor Smalls (5,027 yards) and Travis Blain (4,404).
“I was happy with our kids,” Vandals head coach Jason Clay said.
“The conditions were adverse, and that’s not what you plan for or hope for.
“We struggled early, but we adjusted. It rained the whole night and we adjusted for it,” he said.
“Our defense just played a whale of a game. They kept us in it early when we were scuffling.”
Lightning delayed the kickoff, and the teams’ warmups, by about 20 minutes.
“It was a weird warmup,” Clay said. “It wasn’t a normal routine.
“We were fine; we just didn’t do a good job of tackling on the kickoff.”
Now that the first game is out of the way, “We’ll clean some things up. We’ll go over the film, and we’ll get a couple of guys back next week.
“You’ve always got a chance to improve from week 1 to week 2,” he said.
Clay said that his squad showed its diversity in the opener.
“I think we’re dangerous because we can do different things.
“Thomas (Ritchey) had a huge game running the football. People talk about (having to replace) Trevor (Smalls), but Thomas looked great, did an outstanding job, breaking off some big runs.
“Matthew also had some big runs,” Clay said.
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys who can catch the ball, and obviously, we’ve got a guy who can throw it,” Clay said.
“When we had to go to the run game, we could. Once we got the snap (issue) down, and stuff like that, throwing a wet ball is tough, but we did a good job of hanging in there and being successful.
“Then, we get a couple of scores late, off of a defensive play and a blocked punt, two special teams touchdowns, so that’s always a big deal, too,” Clay said.
The Vandals’ lineup featured a mix of some players with experience and some getting their first real taste of varsity action.
“There are some guys who have been waiting their turn, and they're now getting into the rotation. Gavin Davis is one guy that comes to mind, and Jacob Fickes has been waiting his turn and he started both ways for us tonight,” Clay said.
“It’s good to have guys who are versatile,” he said.
“We can mix and match our packages, and if we can run and throw in all of the packages, that’s going to make us less predictable and more difficult to defend,” Clay said.
The Vandals are now preparing for Friday’s game at Carlinville.
Rushing – 33 carries, 200 yards, 4 touchdowns. Ritchey-18 carries for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns; Wells-13 carries for 35 yards and 2 touchdowns; Fickes-1 carry for -1 yard.
Passing – Wells-8 for 20, 126 yards.
Receiving – Fickes-3 catches for 72 yards; Ritchey-2 catches for 19 yards; Austin-1 catch for 15 yards; Davis-1 catch for 15 yards; Jo. Lotz-1 catch for 5 yards.
Defense – Ulmer-7 solo tackles, 6 assists, 1 tackle for loss; Kaiser-8 solo tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 fumble recoveries; Ritchey-4 solo tackles, 2 assists, sack; Plunkett-3 solo tackles, 3 assists; Ess-3 solo tackles, 3 assists, 1 fumble recovery, touchdown; Enlow-2 solo tackles, 3 assists; Austin-2 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1 tackle for loss; McKinney-1 solo tackle, 3 assists, 1 tackle for loss; Fickes-3 solo tackles, 1 assist, interception; Ruot-3 solo tackles, interception; Davis-2 solo tackles.