MIDDLEBURY — Ike Kastner is back, and the Rockies are happy to have him.
The third-year senior signal caller returned from a three-game suspension Friday, and he ran Plymouth’s offense like a player with something to prove, rattling off three rushing touchdowns and a two-point conversion en route to a game-high 220 rushing yards and guiding the Rockies to a 34-0 Northern Lakes Conference rout of the Raiders on the road at Northridge.
“It was great to have Ike back. What can you say about the kid?” said Plymouth football coach John Barron. “He has a command, he has a presence, and I think everybody else kind of felt that tonight.
“Tonight’s just a culmination of a young man who has dealt with a lot of his own personal adversity, and I think he’s handled it like a champion. Just to have him back and doing the things that he did tonight, I’m proud of him. I know the other coaches are, and I know his teammates are happy for him.”
Kastner already owned 194 yards and a hat trick with three scores in the first half as the Rockies quickly put the outcome beyond doubt.
He went 64 yards in two consecutive carries on the Rockies’ second possession of the game, and his first score of the night — a 30-yard ramble up the Northridge sideline — put Plymouth up 14-0 at the 7:37 mark of the first quarter with Jacob Frantz’s second and final extra-point kick of the night.
A little over three minutes later, he struck again on another breakaway run, this time from 54 yards out to give the Rockies a 20-0 cushion with 4:02 still left to play in the first period.
A would-be 50-yard touchdown run by Kastner at the 9:03 mark of the second was called back for an illegal shift — the first of many at the game for Plymouth as the visitors’ only trouble spot came in the form of 54 penalty yards — but he kept the drive alive with a 15-yard run on a fourth and 4 at the Northridge 47 and eventually punched it in from three yards out, giving Plymouth a 28-0 halftime advantage with a quarterback sneak for a two-point conversion with 4:23 remaining in the half.
Plymouth wasted little time jumping on the Raiders at the game — 13 seconds to be exact — as Justin Drudge returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown at the 11:47 stop of the first quarter. From there it was all Rockies all the way.
“We have our starting offensive line on kickoff return. We put an emphasis on that, and to start the game with that kind of a burst, it just sparked us and set the tone,” said Barron. “(Drudge) is a kid that’s good in open space. He can make people miss, but we had some really nice blocks up front, and we had guys that were committed to one another.”
About the only real suspense at the contest was whether or not Plymouth’s defense would be able to pitch a shutout.
The Rockies held Northridge to 168 net offensive yards compared to 414 by the Plymouth offense and a 2-of-11 third down conversion rate. The Raiders finally mounted a credible threat on their final possession — with a little help from a passing interference penalty on a third-and-long at their own 37 — marching the ball 71 yards in 13 plays to the Plymouth 9, but the Rockies defense held, and Plymouth shut out Northridge for the first time in Barron’s nine years at the helm of the program.
“It was important. It’s something we’ve really tried to stress all season to play a complete game on both sides of the ball,” said Barron. “We played with 11 guys on offense and 12 guys on defense; we played with a lot of guys tonight. I think our kids enjoyed our new look on defense. I think it lets some kids use their natural running ability. It gives some of our older guys like Keyser (McCrammer) the ability to get us in the right position.”
While Drudge’s kick-off return started the Rockies off on the right foot and Kastner’s heroics were good for 220 yards and three scores, senior running back Sam Stevens continued to give his team steady production with 134 yards in 23 carries — including a 5-yard touchdown run with 6:21 on the game clock to bring the score to its final margin.
Northridge remains winless at 0-4 with an 0-2 NLC mark. Plymouth moves to an even 2-2 and 1-0 in the conference with its first Northern Lakes win.
The Rockies hope to keep the momentum rolling as they return home for another conference match-up with Elkhart Memorial next Friday.
“This is a really good win for us. These guys are good — I don’t care what their record says,” Barron said. “They’re well-coached, the teams they had played were 7-2 combined. They honestly did worry us, and I was worried about us, to be honest with you. I didn’t know how we were going to react to changing the defense and getting Ike back, but, boy, we just saw some really nice things out of a lot of kids.”
• PLYMOUTH 34,
Score by Quarters
Plymouth: 20 8 0 6 — 34
Northridge: 0 0 0 0 — 0
Justin Drudge 89-yd kickoff return (Jacob Frantz kick) 11:47
Ike Kastner 30-yd run (Frantz kick) 7:37
Kastner 54-yd run (kick fail) 4:02
Kastner 3-yd run (Kastner rush) 4:23
Sam Stevens 5-yd run (kick fail) 6:21
First downs: 20 12
Rushing (att-yars): 49-405 36-75
Passing: 5-2-0 16-8-1
Passing yardage: 9 93
Fumbles-lost: 1-1 3-0
Penalties-yds lost: 8-54 0-0
Rushing: Kastner 15-220, Stevens 23-134
Passing: Kastner 5-2-0 for 9
Receiving: Drudge 2-9
Records: Plymouth 2-2 (1-1 NLC), Northridge 0-4 (0-2 NLC)