With the game already well in hand Friday night at Northeast High School’s Charles Martin Stadium, Rushawn Grange was basking in his team’s inevitable victory when he noticed a reporter nearby on the sideline.
“Hey, you’re writing an article about us in the paper?” he asked. “Talk to me after the game…don’t forget.”
With the way Grange played, he’d be pretty difficult to forget.
Grange, a sophomore running back for the Vikings, rushed for 160 yards on 20 carries in Northeast’s 26-6 win over Abraham Lincoln. He also caught two passes for 17 yards, and was one of several key contributors who delivered Jim Adams his first career win as Northeast’s head coach. In the team’s postgame huddle, it was soon realized that the Vikings failed to give Adams a celebratory Gatorade bath — a football tradition for milestone coaching victories — a sign that this young team is still learning.
“We’re very young,” Grange acknowledged after the game. “We have to come together, and we aren’t fully there yet. But I love my team. When we put it all together, we can be unstoppable.”
That remains to be seen, but if the Vikings play all season the way they did Friday night, they won’t be a pushover when division powers Frankford and Washington come knocking. A week removed from an ugly 24-0 loss at the hands of suburban power Abington — the Vikings didn’t advance the ball beyond midfield — Grange and company punched holes in Lincoln’s defense all night.
Because the two area rivals play in different divisions within the Public League (Northeast is in the more advanced Gold Division, while Lincoln plays one rung below in the Silver), this was a non-league game, but the Vikings (1-1) didn’t treat it like one.
After the Railsplitters (0-2) marched down the field on the game’s opening drive in just four plays to take a 6-0 lead, Northeast fumbled the ball away on its third offensive possession. Undeterred, the Viking defense forced a fumble of its own two plays later, and after two runs from Grange totaling 41 yards, senior quarterback Daquan Bohannon knotted the score at 6 with a 9-yard touchdown run.
Two plays later, Northeast’s defense was at it again. Lincoln quarterback Miguel Sanchez dropped back for a pass at his own 37 and was bulldozed by defensive back Daeson Moore, who powered through the line on a blitz; the ball squirted free, and lineman Anthony Pulliam picked it up and scampered untouched for a 37-yard score. The defensive score made it 12-6, and Northeast cruised the rest of the way. The Vikings defensive unit held Lincoln to 31 yards on 19 carries and limited the Railsplitters to 98 yards of total offense for the game.
“You can’t really say enough about how well the defense played tonight,” said Bohannon, who threw for 119 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 26 yards and two more on the ground. “They stayed stingy after the first drive and made it easy for us out there.”
The 20-point victory was a coming-out party for Grange, who played mostly as a third-stringer his freshman season and gained just four yards on five carries against Abington. Against Lincoln, he set the tone by gaining 71 yards in the first quarter and helped close out the Railsplitters with 47 in the fourth. The 5-foot-8 tailback was all smiles afterward, as his two rows of braces shone brighter than the stadium lights illuminating the night sky.
“Over the summer, I had the mindset that I was going to come here and start,” he said.
Though they were in celebration mode on Friday, there will be a lot the Vikings will need to fix before playing at Frankford, one of the division’s favorites, in two weeks. For starters, the coaches seemed perturbed at too many foolish penalties, and the team needs to work on finishing after a touchdown. Three of the Vikings’ four point-after conversions failed.
It’s safe to say the team is happy, but not satisfied. “We still need to gel together as a team,” Bohannon acknowledged. “But if we keep practicing and we keep working hard, then I feel like we can beat teams like Frankford and Washington on any given day. Tonight, we wanted it more, and it’s going to have to stay that way. I like the way it felt…to see everyone clicking on all cylinders like that. It was a great bounce back after the first game, and it gave us the confidence we needed.”
While the Vikings are still working their way back to the form of a team that won the Public League championship in 2010, the youngsters continue to mature. During the game, Grange ran with confidence; afterward, he spoke with it, showing signs of a maturing player.
“I got the hang of it (being a varsity player) last year, but I wasn’t ready yet,” he said. “I had the same talent, but I had a lot of work to do. Ever since the offseason when I was running in the heat in weight vests, I just had that feeling. I know I’m a starter, but I have to keep fighting, because the next guy in line wants my position. You can’t take it for granted.
“When you’re starting, you have to keep pushing, no matter what,” he continued. “I wanted to get in the end zone so bad, and it was in my head. I was hungry for it. I didn’t get it, but I got the big yards because of the offense and my offensive line. I can’t do it on my own, and they’ve all helped me so much, especially Bo (Bohannon). We have a real good connection.”
Count Bohannon, the senior, impressed by Grange, the sophomore.
“He followed his blocks, made his cuts and kept his head up the field,” said Bohannon, who later scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and hit Harold Alexander for a 16-yard TD strike early in the fourth quarter. “He found his holes, and he hit them.”
It remains to be seen how Northeast will stack up in a brutally tough Gold Division (Frankford, Washington, Germantown and Central all boast strong teams), but for this night, Adams’ first win as a head coach, they just wanted to enjoy the moment.
“I had a lot of fun…a lot of fun,” a still-smiling Grange said. “It was exciting to be a part of Coach Adams’ first win. Being on the field and having a say in the outcome, I loved it.” ••