Adams Central head coach Shawn Mulligan would like you to know his team is more than just one player, or a trio of them.
Friday’s box score from the No. 3-ranked Patriots’ 55-0 rout of Minden may say otherwise, but he’d like you to believe his team has depth.
Gabe Conant rushed for five touchdowns and 147 yards at Patriot Field Friday night. He carried Adams Central, literally, to victory on one of the coldest nights of the fall thus far.
The Patriots were without star quarterback Evan Johnson’s favorite target Leif Spady, who was out with mononucleosis. But Mulligan made it a point to say his team is comprised of more than just those three.
“Those three guys (Conant, Johnson, and Spady) — we’ve got a quarterback, running back, and receiver that you definitely have to pay attention to,” Mulligan said. “But we’ve got receivers on the other side, too. We’ve got six or seven guys.
“We’re more than just (one player).”
Johnson, without Spady running routes, still threw for 211 yards while completing 10 of his 18 passing attempts. Three of his passes were caught by Conant, primarily on screens. Tyler Slechta, Micah Gengenbach, and Tim Birky reeled in two apiece, and Eli O’Dey had the other reception.
Six of Johnson’s 10 completions went for more than 20 yards. He had two passes go for 38 yards. One was to Slechta, and the other to Conant.
“We started off slow with our passing game, but as our bodies warmed up, it seemed like it got more effective,” Mulligan said.
“We have a talented running back in Gabe Conant, and he’s just shown that all year long. Our offensive line has gotten better, but my hat goes off to Minden. Early in the game their defensive line and linebackers caused us some problems...We just weren’t consistent. It was all big plays that got us our 21-point lead at halftime.”
Adams Central only scored on one “big play,” when Conant took a handoff 55 yards to the house in the third quarter. The big plays Mulligan referred to were the ones that set up smaller yardage plays for scores.
In the second quarter a 22-yard pass from Johnson to Slechta set up Conant’s second rushing TD from the 1 yard line. Later in the quarter, Conant took a screen up the sideline for 38 yards before running it in on the next play from 3 yards out.
On the Patriots’ first drive of the second half, Johnson found Gengenbach for 36 yards before Conant squeezed it in from 11 yards.
Seven of Adams Central’s 11 drives lasted five plays or less. Even more efficient, the Patriots needed just two plays on four of their drives to score thanks to superb field position because of Minden’s struggles punting the ball on the chilly night.
“We’ve done a good job of just being efficient in all aspects of the game,” Mulligan said.
By the end of the third quarter, most of AC’s starters threw on a coat on the sideline and watched the second and third stringers get some varsity playing time.
The Patriots had a lead foot, as three more touchdowns were scored in the fourth quarter by their back up running backs.
Macrae Huyser finished off a 38-yard drive with a 5-yard rushing touchdown. Then Hyatt Collins burst through a hole for a 25-yard score. Last but not least, Tanner Bell scored from 10 yards out with less than 30 seconds left.
On two of the three PAT tries, senior lineman Alexx Uecker split the uprights to the applause of the crowd.
“You never want to embarrass another team or run up the score, but you want to get those kids in and give them the opportunity. Alexx Uecker will remember that forever. Tanner Bell got his first varsity touchdown at the end. You know, you’re just happy for those kids because they put in the time and the effort.”
The Patriot defense had no easy task trying to contain Minden’s Eddie Gonzalez, who averages roughly 166 yards per game on the ground.
But Adams Central held him to just 88 yards on 25 carries Friday.
“I think a lot of it was mentality. He’s a very good running back,” Mulligan said of Gonzalez. “There was kind of a challenge. We keyed on him. He’s their offense, they’re not quite as diverse as we are, and we just put our ears back and got him most of the night.”
“(Adams Central) is very good up front,” Minden head coach Jebb Hatch said. “There was a few times they were slanting, or their nose guard got our center, but for the most part, we hurt ourselves.”
Minden is a run-centric team, but Hatch would’ve liked to see more out of his passing game, which had one completion for seven yards.
“I definitely thought we’d be able to throw,” Hatch said. “That’s one thing (Adams Central) did a nice job of. They were able to sit on top of our receivers and play some pretty nice coverage. We couldn’t even hit our short stuff. Then, it came down to some of our snaps and stuff. If you can’t get the quarterback the football, we can’t move it at all.”
Mulligan and the Patriots (7-0) now have to prepare for their biggest matchup of the season to date on the road at No. 10 Kearney Catholic next week. Spady is expected to be healthy and on sideline for the game.
“They’re a well-coached football team with a lot of athletes, a lot of speed,” Mulligan said of Kearney Catholic. “We’ll have to be sound in every aspect of our game and it’ll be a very entertaining football game.
“We take the simplistic view of just winning every week and if you win every week you put yourself in a good position at the end of the year. We never look past a team we’re playing...We respect everybody, but fear nobody. We just hope to go 1-0 next week.”
Minden (3-4)................0 0 0 0 — 0
AC (7-0)................6 15 14 20 — 55
AC — Gabe Conant 4 run (kick failed).
AC — Conant 1 run (Evan Johnson pass to Conant good)
AC — Conant 3 run (Slechta kick good)
AC — Conant 11 run (Slechta kick good)
AC — Conant 55 run (Slechta kick good)
AC — Macrae Huyser 5 run (Alexx Uecker kick good)
AC — Hyatt Collins 25 run (kick failed)
AC — Tanner Bell 10 run (Uecker kick good)
Rushes-Yards 32-107 31-253
Passing yards 7 211
Comp-Att-Int 2-9-1 10-18-0 212
Total offense 114 464
Rushing — M, Braden Bates 2-(minus) 1, Evan Smith 2-6, Gage Fries 2-6, Eddie Gonzalez 25-88, Tanner Schmidt 1-8; AC, Evan Johnson 3-6, Jacob Eckhardt 1-3, Tanner Bell 3-14, Gabe Conant 17-147, Macrae Huyser 3-14, Hyatt Collins 2-23, Jackson Balfour 2-46.
Passing — M, Bates 2-9-1 7; AC, Johnson 10-18-0 212.
Receiving — M, Creed Ehlers 2-7; AC, Micah Gengenbach 2-39, Eli O’Dey 1-24, Tyler Slechta 2-60, Conant 3-71.