Alec Risner much preferred this birthday to his previous one.
Raceland’s hard-to-block senior led a rugged defensive performance from his end position Saturday night as the Rams beat East Carter 40-14 in the opener for both teams.
Risner celebrated his 18th birthday in style by making several tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.
“I always try to play hard,” said the physical 6-foot-1, 283-pounder. “The big thing is we got a win. Last year my birthday was the Ashland game, and we lost.”
The Rams’ defense played the lead role against East Carter, making 16 tackles for zero or negative yards.
“Defensively, I thought we played really well,” Raceland coach T.J. Maynard said. “The effort was great.”
Raceland also put constant pressure on new East Carter quarterback Cole McClain, limiting the senior to two completions in 12 attempts and returning two interceptions for touchdowns.
East Carter also used senior Zach Cathey some at quarterback. Raceland’s Brady Harris and Mac Boggs sacked him early and Risner dropped McClain for a 7-yard loss in the second quarter.
“I like our two ends,” Maynard said of Risner and Boggs. “Risner takes it personal every play. He’s a heck of a player and had a pretty good birthday.”
Raceland yielded only 35 total yards to the Raiders in the first half. But the Rams had to settle for a 14-0 lead on quarterback Adam Elkins’ 1-yard sneak and Daylin Beach’s 21-yard run after escaping a defender in the backfield.
East Carter’s defense hung tough by stopping Raceland on downs at the 2, 28 and 1 during the first two quarters.
“You have to give East Carter’s players and coach (Zack) Moore a lot of credit,” Maynard said. “They came up with some nice schemes. They had some of our guys confused instead of coming out and playing.”
East Carter was coming off a 2-8 finish last season, while Raceland went 9-3 and reached the second round of the Class A playoffs.
The Rams put the game away in the third quarter thanks to junior Connor Messer, who wasted no time living up to his big-play reputation.
On the second half’s first play from scrimmage, Messer took a short pass in the flat from Elkins and found himself in the grasp of a defender. But Messer broke away, cut across field and took off for a 67-yard TD.
“Our line did a good job,” he said. “I caught the pass, went up field and the linemen were still blocking for me.”
Overall, Messer had a big night receiving with five catches for 130 yards.
Later in the third quarter, he stepped in front of a receiver for an interception and carried it 47 yards to the end zone. He also kicked the extra point for a 27-0. As a sophomore, Messer returned three of his nine picks for TDs.
“He just makes plays,” Maynard said. “I’ve said it before, his football IQ is off the chart.”
East Carter’s offense finally found a crack in Raceland’s defense on Jordan Ratcliff’s 80-yard scoring run with 4:05 left in the third quarter.
Raceland responded with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Bailey Walker scored from 10 yards out, then defensive back Maverick Dixon took an interception 31 yards after pulling the ball away from a receiver.
Elkins led the Rams in rushing with 98 yards and also passed for 179. Beach added 85 yards rushing.
East Carter’s Chase Steele scored on a 35-yard run with 18 seconds remaining.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.