Redding Christian senior Isaiah VanDenend (5) on one of his 20 rushed for 282 yards and five touchdowns against Mercy on Saturday. (Courtesy of Barbara Rogers).
RED BLUFF — Redding Christian’s football team started off the 2018 season with a 40-6 road win over Mercy Saturday at Sacred Heart Parish School in Red Bluff thanks to five rushing touchdowns from Isaiah VanDenend.
The Lions came into their opener not knowing what to expect. They are very young this year with just three seniors and just six players with substantial experience. One of those seniors is Isaiah Van Denend. As the part time starter at quarterback last year, he rushed for nearly 400 yards and passed for about the same amount, but this season, with no experienced receivers, he was expected to carry a much bigger load. And so he did, as he rushed for 282 yards and five scores in the opener to lead the Lions to a season-opening victory.
The young Lions, who have 15 first- or second-year players on their 21-man roster, made mistakes early with three delay of game penalties in the first quarter, missed assignments, and dropped passes — VanDenend was 0 for 5 passing the ball on the night, all to ninth or 10th grade receivers. After numerous errors, the Lions ended the quarter up 7-6, on the strength of Van Denend’s 52-yard touchdown. The lines, where much of the Lions experience resides, was dominating on both sides of the ball, but the scoreboard wasn’t showing it.
In the second quarter, the Lions settled down and began to complete tackles on defense and assert their will on offense. Linemen Caleb Steffen, Wyatt Hughes, Sam Standifer, and reserve lineman Ryne Luaces and Luke Zikan opened some holes for VanDenend and other backs, producing 26 points in the quarter. Young receivers and motion backs also blocked well, allowing VanDenend to extend his runs. Defensively, the underclassmen mixed in with some experienced teammates, stepped up and began to shut down almost everything the Warriors tried to do.
With a 33-6 halftime lead, the Lions were on cruise control for the second half, playing younger players, running a more conservative offense, and refining a few issues that needed fixing.
“I was proud of the way our young guys stepped up and made plays,” Redding Christian head coach Gerald Piper said. “I never had the sense that they were too overwhelmed.”
VanDenend added three punts for a 40.5 yard average, and to his 282 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Sophomore Sam Chiu had 2 rushes for 19 yards and a touchdown, Clark Smith added 12 yards on three attempts for the Lions. Defensively, 18 players contributed tackles, led by Standifer with 13 tackles and 2 sacks. Other notable defenders included Smith (13 tackles), Tristan Pantha (eight tackles), Luaces (seven tackles), Wyatt Hughes (five tackles and 3 fumble recoveries), and Anthony Guido with four tackles and an interception. New kicker Jonah Osborne went 4 for 5 on PATs, his only miss being on a block and one attempt he never got to make because the snap went over the holders head.
The Lions next play Los Molinos on the road, winners of their opener 74-3 over Tulelake.
8-Man Football Notes:
- There are 16 Northern Section teams that play 8-man football, divided into 2 leagues, North and South. Twelve teams played non-league games this weekend, and the leagues went 3-3 against each other, with Big Valley, Weed, and Redding Christian winning for the north and Westwood, Los Molinos and Princeton winning for the south. Dunsmuir and Happy Camp in the north and Herlong and McCloud in the south have not yet played.
- Defending champions Big Valley opened their title defense against playoff team from last year Greenville, and won 27-26. Last season, Big Valley won by an average of 60-4 and no games were less than 15-point victories in their undefeated season.
- All other games played were decided by 30 points or more, leaving us knowing little about the 8-man ranks after the first weekend.
- Los Molinos, next weekend’s opponent for the Lions, had the biggest margin of victory at 74-3. The Bulldogs only lost two seniors from last year’s playoff semifinal team.
Article written by Wil Keepers
Stats by Monica Standifer
Pictures by Barbara Rogers