By ANDY WOLF
Van Buren senior quarterback Brady Rader believed in his defense.
He watched from the sidelines as the Black Knights forced three second-half turnovers on the short side of the 50. They also pitched a second-half shutout and made one big stop late in the fourth quarter.
Throw in 265 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns from Rader, and Van Buren upended Liberty-Benton 34-14 for a Blanchard Valley Conference win Friday night.
“It’s awesome, just knowing they have my back and they’re going out there and grinding,” he said. “They’re getting turnovers, they’re getting the offense ball back. They did a hell of a job tonight.”
Van Buren improved to 4-5 overall, 3-4 in the BVC.
L-B, which had won its last four games, fell to 4-5, 4-3 in league play.
The winning feeling begin to sink in for Rader once L-B came up empty after having first-and-goal at the Van Buren 8 yard-line.
A holding call on third down backed them up to the 24 where L-B’s Ben Spiess fired two incompletions at the goal line.
Rader promptly marched Van Buren down 76 yards in eight plays for his fifth and final touchdown — a 2-yard plunge — with 2:59 remaining to cap the scoring.
“I knew our defense could stop them at all times and our offense would go down and score again,” said Rader who also threw for 143 yards.
Rader had displayed his dual-threat ability in smaller quantities over the previous eight games, rushing for 371 yards on 85 carries and five scores entering Friday.
He ran 20 times and doubled his touchdown count by scoring on runs of 67, 24, 19, 2 and 3 yards.
His classmate Bryce Smith added 93 yards on 25 carries.
“(Brady) was the man,” Van Buren coach J.T. Bates said. “We challenged him to be the man, to be the best player on the field and he was tonight.”
Van Buren got out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead with Rader scoring on back-to-back drives.
On his 67-yarder, he scrambled around the left tackle, switched directions across midfield to make a man miss and hit daylight down the right hash.
“It’s a play we run pretty often,” Rader said. “I saw a little seam and our tackle took the end upfield. I tried to make him miss; once I made him miss there was no one there.”
Liberty-Benton shifted momentum in an instance with two big passing plays.
Spiess hit Jon Sadler for 42 yards on fourth-and-7 and, on L-B’s next offensive play, hit Brycen Abbott who took a simple slant 71 yards to the house to knot the score up in just 6 minutes.
However, it’s all the Eagles would get.
They ran 17 times total for 18 yards and Spiess threw for 223 yards with two interceptions, one in each half.
“They were physically beating us up in the first half,” L-B coach Tim Nichols said. “We were fortunate in the second quarter to hit a few plays. They just owned us up front and now you have to try to jump around and do some things.”
Nichols noted the Black Knights being able to take their leading rusher Marshall Rose out of the game.
Rose, the sixth-leading rusher in the BVC at 100.9 yards per game, ran four times for 4 yards.
“They had a good plan with Marshall and made us have to go to some other guys,” Nichols said. “We hit some plays but we just got beat around.”
Liberty-Benton’s first two drives of the second half ended in lost fumbles in Van Buren territory. Two drives later Kyle Hoyng intercepted Spiess in the end zone for a touchback.
Van Buren capitalized and turned both fumbles into touchdowns.
Rader first baited L-B with an read-option keeper, pulling the ball from Smith and going 19-yards untouched off right tackle.
On the next drive, his 65-yard scamper set up a 2-yard plunge two plays later to give the Black Knights the two-score edge at 28-14 at the 2:52 mark in the third quarter.
“Bryce, he just takes a bunch of hits,” Rader said. “Every time he gets killed and coach finally told me to read this one and pull it. I pulled it and we had a bunch of blockers out there, did a hell of a job and I am so thankful for our line and everyone blocking.”
Van Buren once sat at 1-5 overall after four straight losses to state-ranked conference opponents.
There’s now the chance the Black Knights can turn a nearly forgettable year to a respectable 5-5 finish. Van Buren hosts rival North Baltimore (1-8, 1-6) in Week 10.
“It would be the greatest accomplishment of my high school career,” Rader said. “It’s awesome. I love these guys. I’d do anything for them and they’d do anything for me.”
Van Buren 14 0 14 7 — 34
Liberty-Benton 0 14 0 0 — 14
VB — Rader 67 run (Piccirillo kick)
VB — Rader 24 run (Piccirillo kick)
L-B — Sadler 42 pass from Spiess (Bartel kick)
L-B — Abbott 71 pass from Spiess (Bartel kick)
VB — Rader 19 run (Piccirillo kick)
VB — Rader 2 run (Piccirillo kick)
VB — Rader 3 run (pass failed)
First Downs 15 7
Rushes-yards 45-352 17-18
Passing Yards 143 223
Comp-Att-Int 13-26-1 13-25-2
RUSHING — Van Buren, Rader 20-265, Smith 24-93, Forsyth 1-(minus-6). Liberty-Benton, Sadler 9-12, Rose 3-4, Collert 2-4, Maas 1-4, D. Broerman 1-(minus-2), team 1-(minus-4).
PASSING — Van Buren, Rader 13-26-143-1. Liberty-Benton, Spiess 13-24-223-1, Rose 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — Van Buren, Risner 3-48, Lambert 3-28, Bahn 4-31, Forsyth 1-11, Smith 1-4.