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By Mary Schwanke
Within the halls of North Shelby Friday morning, August 27, varsity football players donned their traditional “jorts’’ and jerseys to celebrate the opening of the 2021 football season. This game would be unique, not only because of new head coach, David Stuckey, and the graduation of Jackson Lunsford, but also because the season would open with a return to their 11-man roots.
“Football is football. It’s physical, it’s fast, and it’s a fun game,” said Coach Stuckey. The guys practiced playing 11-man the week leading up to Friday night.
A final score of 22-0 marked the Raiders’ first win of the season, and the first varsity 11-man win for all of them.
The first half of the game was a struggle to gain yards for both teams. In all, there were 11 fourth down punts.
The Raiders won the coin toss and kicked off to the Wolverines, setting the line of scrimmage at the 41-yard line. Carson Orr intercepted a Maysville pass. North Shelby couldn’t break free for a first down, and Cale Stoneburner was set to punt. Maysville’s possession turned out similarly, punting the ball to NS with six minutes left in the first quarter. A pass to Justin Lunsford resulted in a fourth down a mere foot short of the marker, ultimately giving the Raiders no choice but to punt again.
Maysville’s head coach called for a timeout with 3:50 left in the first quarter. Out of the huddle, Kyle Smith returned with a hasty quarterback sack. The Wolverine’s pass attempts failed, and they punted the ball, setting the NS up 93 yards from their end zone, farther than they’d been from an end zone since transitioning into 8-man six seasons ago.
The first quarter was scoreless.
The first six minutes of the second quarter were more of the same back and forth action we saw in the first. Coach Stuckey called a time out with 6:20 left in the first half.
Finally, North Shelby cheerleaders could get some jumping jacks in. Maysville fumbled the ball, and it was picked up by the Raiders. From 33 yards, Stoneburner threw a deep pass to Orr, resulting in the first touchdown of the game and season. The conversion was no good, setting the score at 6-0.
The Wolverines ran out of downs on their next possession. North Shelby committed a false start and ultimately were forced to punt the ball. Luke Schwanke’s response was sacking Maysville quarterback, Kaleb Jestes, forcing a fumble that was picked up by Smith. Two of Stoneburner’s passes went uncaught. The clock ran out, signaling half time.
“Our guys got their second wind,” said Coach Stuckey. “The Raiders had been putting in hours of conditioning and hard work during the summer. This benefitted them greatly in the second half.”
Stoneburner chucked a deep pass to Lunsford, resulting in a touchdown. After a successful two-point conversion, the Raiders led 14-0.
Into the fourth quarter, the ball was fumbled by Maysville and recovered by Noah Greenwell for a Raider first down at the 50. NS worked together to inch across the field, achieving several first-downs and gaining yardage mainly on foot. Orr dove into the end zone for a glorious touchdown with four minutes left in the game. Lunsford brought in the conversion.
How did returning to 11-man for a night feel?
“Playing 11-man was really weird for me. You’ve got 10 more yards of boundary and 20 more yards added to the field in total. It’s a lot different seeing that many people on the field,” Stoneburner answered.
Regardless, the team adapted efficiently. “Once we figured out everything and the schemes, we blocked it really well and started to execute in the second half,” said Stoneburner.
Lunsford was pleased with the win.
“This was a huge statement for us as a team because this was our first high school 11-man game, and we set the tone early and got the job done,” Lunsford said.
“We overcame adversity. We were struggling at times, but we kept our head about us. We focused, and in the third and fourth quarters we were able to extend that lead,” said Stuckey.
Lunsford is looking forward to this season. “We all have one ultimate goal. Each week is just to get three plays better. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ll finish out with a victory.”