Huntsville defeated Rudder, 42-23 in District 18-4A play, on a rain-soaked field on Friday night at Merrill-Green Stadium.
The Rangers (0-4, 0-2) hung around in the first half, but could not put all of the pieces together over the course of the game to keep up with the Hornets (1-3, 1-1).
Rudder’s defense controlled the line of scrimmage and got some stops in the first half — enough to give the Rudder offense a shot to capitalize. But a special teams miscue and some sloppy offensive play came back to bite the Rangers.
In the first half, Rudder committed nine offensive penalties, allowed a punt to downed at its 1-yard line and fumbled a ball in its own end zone for a Huntsville touchdown. Those errors allowed Huntsville to pull away after Rudder had initially taken a 14-7 lead.
Rudder coach C.M. Pier said that the Rangers’ struggles have been because they haven’t taken advantage of opportunities.
“It’s as simple as catching a punt,” he said.
Those words rang true early in the second quarter. After Robert Lee ran in an opening-drive touchdown to give Rudder a 7-0 lead for the second consecutive week, it looked like the Rangers had all the momentum. The Rudder defense followed that score by forcing a three-and-out. However, on the ensuing punt, Lee allowed a Huntsville punt to hit at the 9-yard line and get downed inside the 1-yard line.
On the next play, all that momentum disappeared. A fumbled handoff exchange between quarterback Brady Batten and running back Jamal Collins in the end zone ended up in the wrong hands and the game was suddenly tied at 7.
Rudder answered quickly though. Batten found Isaiah Johnson out in the flat and he went 70 yards, flashing some game-changing speed to give the Rangers a 14-7 lead.
It became a wet track meet on Huntsville’s next series as Harold Johnson gained 22 yards, evading several tackles in the process. Morie Evans then took an end-around 30 yards untouched to tie the game at 14.
On Rudder’s ensuing drive, the penalty bug bit the Rangers hard. Three consecutive penalties made a third-and-10 a third-and-36. After a punt, Huntsville took one play to take its first lead of the night.
Christain Champine caught a 58-yard touchdown pass from Malik Brown. It was a short pass into the right flat and Champine found a crease and reached the end zone without being touched. After trailing 14-7, it took the Hornets only four offensive plays to take a lead.
Rudder’s defense came up big again on Huntsville’s next drive as defensive lineman Spencer Choka forced a fumble from Brown at the 3-yard line, but Huntsville recovered. After a three-and-out, a snap went over the Huntsville punter’s head and gave Rudder a safety and excellent field position.
But it was another offensive miscue stunted Rudder’s momentum. A low snap went through Batten’s legs on first down and put the Rangers in a deep enough whole that they could not pick up a first down, turning the ball over on downs.
In the two-minute offense, Brown was perfect. He found Evans for 25 yards on the first play. He then hit Champine in the middle of the field for nine more yards. And he connected with Da’Cuan Jenkins for a 43-yard touchdown pass to cap Huntsville’s 28-point second quarter.
Huntsville took advantage of two more Rudder penalties early in the third quarter to extend its lead to 35-16. In all, Huntsville scored 14 points off of Rudder turnovers.
Batten did find Johnson for another touchdown in the fourth quarter, showing off his continued improvement passing each week. He finished with 238 yards on 11-of-20 passing.
Johnson was also a bright spot for the Rangers, finishing with 199 receiving yards to go along with two touchdowns.
Despite the wet conditions, Brown was superb through the air, using all of his targets and spreading the ball around. He finished with 127 yards and was incredibly efficient.
Evans did his damage on the ground, finishing with 167 rushing yards. Huntsville finished with 392 rushing yards on 50 carries.
Huntsville returns home next week to take on Magnolia, which defeated Rudder last week. The Rangers will look to for their first win of the season next when they travel to Caney Creek.