ROXANA – Once familiar foes, but it’s been 27 years since the Roxana Shells and Jerseyville Panthers locked up on the gridiron.
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Twenty-seven years later, a 27-0 ballgame.
Roll the clock forward to 2023’s season-opener for both schools and it was Roxana picking up the ironic 27-0 win at their home Charlie Raich Field Friday night over the Panthers.
It’s a game that Roxana head coach Wade DeVries was glad to have on his schedule.
“Tradition is tradition,” he said.
He spoke of a time when the Shells didn’t play many of the surrounding area teams, and it didn’t sit well with him.
“We got in this league to get back and play the Riverbend,” DeVries said. “We had zero rivals when I got here, and it was a bit disappointing to me.”
Those times are changing with the likes of Civic Memorial, Marquette Catholic, and of course East Alton-Wood River on the schedule.
“Now we’ve got it,” he said happily. “This year we’re able to add Jerseyville which completes it. It’s a really good thing for the communities, kind of get back to the ‘80s and ‘90s rivalries hopefully.”
Friday night was a rivalry renewed between two schools, and both cities showed up for the cause to watch what ended up being a lopsided affair.
The Panthers received to open the game and kept the drive going multiple times. A long run play on second-and-20 was followed up with a fourth-and-four attempt. Jersey’s senior quarterback Easton Heafner kept the ball, converting on the play and moving the chains early on.
The following play he threw an interception caught by Roxana senior Terrel Graves. The two-way defensive/running back regained possession for his team at their own 30-yard line.
Get used to reading the name Andruw Ellis, because the junior running back for the Shells was all over the place. He kickstarted the Shells’ first drive with a 21-yard carry. After having to convert on a fourth-and-one, the next play Ellis carried, broke through a hole in the Jersey defense, and took it to the house for his first touchdown of the night.
The Shells went for the two-point conversion and were successful after senior QB Chris Walleck found trusty senior receiver Evan Wells to take the 8-0 lead.
Jersey would have two more possessions, but come up empty-handed, figuratively, and quite literally later on.
In the meantime, Roxana was hungry to grow its lead, and that’s what would happen next. After a holding penalty, the Shells had to take it out from their own 15 but marched their way down.
Wells had a nice pick-up before another breakout from Ellis as he took it to the house for the second time on another long rush. The Shells went for two, but couldn’t convert, having to settle for a 14-0 lead.
The Panthers’ best opportunity came on their next possession. After a decent return, they started on their own 37. Heafner let out a near-perfect throw to senior wide receiver Frank Vogel, but it just bobbled off his fingertips on third down.
The Shells would get the ball back on their own 20 before Ellis made it three. Another long rushing attempt from inside his own half was taken back. After another unsuccessful two-point conversion, the Shells led 20-0.
The teams would swap possessions again before Jersey found themselves on its 42-yard line with 1:23 left in the half. That quickly turned into a first-and-goal situation with eight seconds left. The Panthers got two quality snaps off, but they were no good as the horn sounded.
“I thought the first half we had a great gameplan, offensively and defensively, we just got to execute,” Jersey head coach Caleb Williams said.
He didn’t have very much of an answer for his team's dropped balls throughout the night.
“I can’t, other than the first ‘Friday Night Lights’,” he said.
After a long first half for a game that was already delayed an hour due to the heat, the second half promptly kicked off at 9:43 p.m. with real-feel temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s due to the humidity.
Maybe that took a toll because the second half was a bit slower-paced. The Shells did exactly what you’re supposed to do with a 20-point lead; run the clock and make sure you leave the other team with bad field position.
They did both those things well and even added another score for good measure.
This time it was Ellis’ longest one of the night, a 74-yarder. Junior kicker Joe Newton made good on the extra point kick to ice the game at 27-0.
Coach Williams knows exactly what his Panthers need to work on.
“We just have to catch the football when we throw it like that,” he said. “When we run the football we look pretty strong too, but I bet we had more penalty yards than offensive yards. We shoot ourselves in the foot. I think it’s a lot closer if we don’t have all those penalties.”
On the other side of the coin, DeVries and his defense were a little shocked with the shutout.
“I mean, defensively, we played really good defense last year, but we had to replace a lot of guys,” he said.
“So, we had a lot of unknowns defensively, but I think week one is a lot about ‘survive and advance’. Tonight, I think the biggest difference was we hit those explosive plays. They [Jersey] had opportunities too and they didn’t capitalize on them. You know, two or three explosive plays for them and this is a whole different game,” he added.
“That’s week one. We missed some shots; they missed some shots.”
Andruw Ellis did not miss his shots. The junior wide-out turned RB finished the night with 305 yards and had his coach a little bit in awe.
“I think he’s going to be a force this year,” DeVries said.
“We need to (count on him). He’s a really good player. He’s got to be a really good player for us the whole year.”
DeVries was happy up and down the roster, taking no exception for his team’s depth this season.
“I don’t even have a count on how many guys played tonight.”
He estimated somewhere in the mid-30s.
“Sophomores through seniors, and we needed all of them. We needed everyone that was out there.”
It was a collaborative effort to ensure the Shells won their season opener in back-to-back seasons.
Roxana will try and improve to 2-0 when they host Red Bud next week. As for the Panthers, they’ll still be on the road, this time at Freeburg. Both games start at 7 p.m. on Friday, September 1st.
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