By Greg Bates
ACN & Times-Press sports correspondent
Hunter Clark had a solid junior season, rushing for six touchdowns.
But that was nothing compared to what Clark did his opening game as a senior.
The second-year starting running back exploded for five touchdowns as Seymour’s offensive line played well in a 49-21 victory at home against Green Bay East on Friday.
“Coaches all week just talked about ball get off, so that’s what we just preached to the offensive line,” Clark said. “Ball get off and we’ll be fine, and we were tonight.”
Seymour racked up 445 yards on the ground, led by Clark’s 214.
“He’s probably our most explosive guy, the guy that can take it to the house from just about anywhere on the field as you saw,” Seymour Coach Matt Molle said. “It’s kind of who we are up front, we’re not very big. So, the old-school Wing-T tonight was kind of fun because that gives you angles and you’re trapping and you’re pulling linemen. It takes advantage of those guys because we’re not always going to line up and knock guys 20 yards off the ball when we’re a little light in the britches.”
Fellow senior running back Jeremiah Baranczyk added 164 yards rushing and one score. Both guys had 15 carries and both broke off long runs – Clark going for 70 yards and Baranczyk gained 62.
Opening the season with a win – which is the second straight year Seymour has done that against Green Bay East – helps with morale for a mostly young team.
“We play conference games right away, so the biggest thing is you don’t want to fall behind,” Molle said. “So, if you don’t get off to a quick start in this conference, 1-0 vs. 0-1, it kind of makes you chase for the rest of the season. Anytime you get a chance to open up at home, that’s important. You want to protect your home turf. For an inexperienced group of guys, I think that’s really important.”
The Thunder stayed on the ground in large part because of its talent at running back with three seniors in the backfield and inexperience at quarterback with sophomore Peyton VanDeHei starting his first career game.
“That’s part of the reason you saw us shrink our playbook,” Molle said. “It was just double tight, double wing pretty much every play. Just a couple we weren’t, but that was pretty much it.”
VanDeHei was called on only once to throw the ball, and it was called at the perfect time. With Seymour lulling the Green Bay East defense to sleep with run after run after run, the Thunder faced a third-and-5 in Red Devils territory. VanDeHei threw a strike to senior split end Trent Blake for a 35-yard touchdown. That gave Seymour a 49-21 lead with 6:11 remaining in the game.
“We kind of talked about it at halftime,” Molle said. “I said, ‘At some point, guys, I am going to call a bootleg and we’re going to be wide open.’ It was just a matter if they were going to block it because they were kind of bringing guys and taking some chances. But it was the right time and the right call for that point in time and I’m glad for (Peyton) he put it out there for Trent.”
Seymour opened the season off in style. On the first play from scrimmage, Clark took a handful, weaved through the Green Bay East defense and was off to the races for a 70-yard touchdown.
After Seymour’s defense forced the Red Devils to punt, Clark capped off an 11-play drive with a 1-yard plunge for a touchdown. Jaron Valley’s extra point made it 14-0 with 4:06 left in the first quarter.
Green Bay East (0-1) answered with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Koda Kinjerski to Andrew Baeb. Seymour came right back with an 89-yard drive that was finished off by another Clark 1-yard touchdown run.
Right before halftime, Green Bay East marched down to the Seymour 6, but the Thunder defense held on fourth down to keep the Red Devils out of the end zone.
On the opening drive of the second half, Green Bay East scored on a fourth-and-goal on a Jeremiah Flowers 2-yard run. Seymour didn’t wait long to make it a two-score game again. Clark took a handful and scampered 61 yards for a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Baranczyk forced the ballcarrier to fumble and Jacob VerVoort pounced on the loose ball. With great field position at the Green Bay East 24, it took just four plays for Clark to score his fifth touchdown of the game – this time a 4-yard run to make it 35-14.
Green Bay East tallied a rushing score and Baranczyk ripped off a 34-yard touchdown run. That gave Seymour a 42-21 lead with 11:52 left in the game.
The Red Devils got the ball down to the Seymour 7, but the Thunder defense again rose to the occasion and forced a turnover on downs.
It was a bend but not break defensive effort at times from Seymour.
“We talked before we came out here, the mantra was, ‘Whatever it takes,’” Molle said. “So, was it our best game? Certainly not. But when we need a stop a couple times we did, and that was the difference in the ballgame.”
“Defense-wise, we have to get more stops, tackle better for DBs and linebackers,” said Clark, who also plays cornerback. “Pick the ball off more – like coach says, one pick for every seven passes.”
Seymour got its only interception of the game as Del Wendt picked off a pass late in the fourth after the Thunder scored on its lone pass.
Seymour outgained Green Bay East 480 yards to 310. The Thunder averaged 9.4 yards per play.
Seymour will head to Green Bay West in Week 2 on Friday. The Wildcats are coming off a 39-6 loss to Xavier.
Molle is looking to take away plenty of positives from his team’s opening-week performance.
“I didn’t think we were going to put that many points on the board, so that was good,” Molle said. “And, we really didn’t miss that many opportunities. I think we only punted only one time, so anytime you can finish it off like that and put 49 points up, you ought to have a chance to win the game.”
Added Clark: “Getting the W today is a huge confidence booster going into next week.”