By Tris Wykes
LEBANON – Lebanon High football coach Chris Childs figured it had been roughly 50 years since an NHIAA Division I foe played at Henry Emerton Field. Given how the Division II Raiders welcomed Keene on Saturday, it might be a few decades more before another such foe accepts an invitation.
Somewhat lackluster during a scoreless first half, Lebanon fired on all cylinders after intermission, riding the running skills of quarterback Jack Stone to a 21-0 victory and improving to 3-0 this season. The Raiders’ game at Plymouth last week was canceled by Covid-19 concerns.
Stone is “a unique athlete once you get him outside the (tackle) box and he can either run or throw,” said Lebanon coach Chris Childs. “It adds another thing for a defense to keep an eye on. He’s agile and his lower half is really strong. Defenders have to get two hands on him to bring him down.”
Stone, a wiry junior who missed most of last season because of a leg injury, carried 14 times for 141 yards. The highlight was a simple sweep right that suddenly turned into a 66-yard touchdown jaunt on the third quarter’s third play. The sprint put the hosts up, 14-0, and appeared to sap the Blackbirds’ remaining spirit.
Stone explained that Lebanon recognized Keene’s free safety was creeping ever closer to the line of scrimmage to support its run defense. The Blackbird honed in on the Raiders’ slot receiver, but was blocked and trapped inside, allowing Stone to turn the corner.
“We got good blocks and it’s a great feeling when you have nothing but wide open field in front of you,” the quarterback said.
Because of virus precautions and cancelations, Lebanon has played roughly half the games it would in a normal season to this point. Throw in a pair of practices limited by this week’s rain and the Raiders needed much of the first half to gain traction.
“This is definitely a year where you have to deal with different stuff than normal,” Childs said, noting that his team is only allowed to watch video under an outdoor tent, but that even that option is quashed if it’s raining.
“It took our kids a little while to get going after 14 days off, but we also wore (Keene) down in the second half. And the offense they run isn’t really built to come from behind.”
The ground-based Blackbirds took 15 of the first quarter’s 19 snaps and pushed as far as the hosts’ 5-yard line. However, safety Calvin Bates intercepted a Tanner Payne pass in the end zone to snuff the threat.
Keene (0-2) was called for a high-low blocking foul late in the drive and hamstrung itself with 12 penalties for 85 yards during the game. Lebanon wasn’t immune – an illegal block during a second-quarter punting play wiped out a 47-yard return for a touchdown by Stone.
The Raiders were stout without the ball, however, holding Keene to 38 yards rushing and 113 through the air.
“We knew they wanted to pound the ball on us so we moved everyone except the cornerbacks into the box to stop them,” said Stone, who also plays safety. “The key is our linemen shooting off the ball, because if they get pushed back, that’s when the trouble starts.”
Stone completed only 3 of 8 passes for 49 yards during the first half but he hit on 3 of 4 tosses for 50 yards and a touchdown after the break. He earned 89 of his rushing yards during the second half despite each snap irritating an injured finger on his non-throwing hand.
Lebanon forced the Blackbirds to punt during the second half’s opening possession, then drove 50 yards in six plays and scored when Stone threw to C.J. Childs in the left flat for a 33-yard touchdown pass. Tanner Ames booted the extra point for a 7-0 lead seven minutes into the third quarter.
Keene held the ball for nearly six minutes during its next possession before punting on the drive’s eighth play. Stone was off to the races on the Raiders’ next snap and Ames added his second extra point for a 14-0 lead 34 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Lebanon closed the scoring with a 32-yard Childs touchdown run with three minutes remaining. Noah Mekus kicked the extra point this time.
“To have a team come in from a school with 1,400 kids and we only have 600, that’s a heck of a job by our kids,” Chris Childs said.
C.J. Childs carried four times for 37 yards and a touchdown and teammate Nyeoti Punni ran five times for 22 yards. Keene’s Payne completed 9 of 14 passes for 113 yards and had one throw intercepted. Blackbirds Jonas French and Christian Oxendine combined for 15 carries and 53 yards.
Lebanon is scheduled to play at arch-rival Hanover next week. However, Chris Childs said his understanding is the fourth- and fifth-place teams in the nearest Division II playoff region will stage a postseason play-in game next week. If Hanover were to finish fourth, its participation in such a contest would preempt its matchup with the Raiders.
“I don’t know how they’re going to figure it all out, but the first round is supposedly going to be focused on geographic (matchups),” Childs said. “If we play Hanover this week, I’m guessing it’s probably going to be for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.”
Notes: Keene lineman Ethan Russell was ejected with five minutes to play for a personal foul… Lebanon tackle Connor Brown suffered late leg cramps that had him prone and howling, but was smiling and laughing by the time he was helped off the field… Childs said he’s hopeful Dresden School District officials will relent on their ban of visiting fans at Merriman-Branch Field for next week’s game. Marauders supporters have regularly been allowed on Lebanon’s campus for clashes between the schools this autumn.
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