ACCS gets run when it matters
NATCHEZ — ACCS senior running back Brandon Sanders rushed for 271 yards and scored five touchdowns in the Rebels’ season-opening game against CENLA Christian Friday night.
But his biggest run of the night wasn’t one of his several long touchdown gallops. It was a simple bruising 12-yard gain late in the fourth quarter.
After watching a seemingly comfortable 53-36 lead in the final minutes dwindle down to three points after two quick CENLA touchdowns, ACCS faced a third and 10 at midfield with less than two minutes remaining.
If the Rebels failed to get a first down, CENLA would get the ball back against a tired ACCS defense with a minute to go.
But Sanders wasn’t about to let that happen.
The senior took a pitch around the left end, ran over a would-be tackler eight yards downfield and lunged across the first down marker to seal the ACCS victory.
With CENLA out of timeouts, the Rebels were able to take three knees and run the clock out on a 53-50 nail-biter.
“I was trying to get outside,” Sanders said of his run. “All I was thinking about was getting that first down and securing the win for my team.”
It didn’t appear ACCS would have to sweat out a victory when Rusty Blackwell scored on a 4-yard run to put the Rebels up 53-36 with 4:32 remaining.
But CENLA quickly drove the field and scored on a Andy Brossett 7-yard run with 2:52 remaining.
The Lions then recovered the onside kick and on their first play from scrimmage after the recovery, quarterback Graham Kelly hit Reagan Lane on a 51-yard touchdown pass to cut the ACCS lead to three points.
CENLA tried another onside kick, but Daniel Guedon recovered it for the Rebels, and they were able to run out the clock thanks to Sanders’ first down run.
“When he made that run, it felt like a 400-pound gorilla jumped off my back, ACCS assistant coach Hunter McKeivier said. “It was a huge play for us.”
While the first down run was the biggest play Sanders made, his leadership on offense was the difference in the game after starting quarterback Kent Yates went down with an arm injury in the third quarter.
The game was tied at 28-28 when Yates went down, and the Rebels could have lost their way on offense.
But Sanders wouldn’t let them, as he rushed for a 55-yard touchdown off a direct snap two plays after the injury to put ACCS up 34-28.
After a CENLA fumble, Sanders scored on a 32-yard run one play later to put the Rebels up by 12 points.
After Dunbar scored to cut the ACCS lead to 40-36, Sanders punished the Lions defense for 45 yards on four carries, which ended with a 7-yard touchdown run with 9:32 remaining.
“I felt like it was up to me to put the team on my back,” Sanders said. “I was just giving 100 percent every play and getting my teammates pumped up.”
McKeivier said Sanders showed his leadership ability after Yates went down with the injury.
“I’m tremendously proud of Brandon,” McKeivier said.
“I’ve told him he didn’t have to be a vocal leader, but he needed to be a leader on the field. And he did that for us tonight.”
McKeivier also had praise for backup quarterback Johnny Smith, who played well in Yates’ absence.
“Johnny stepped up and did a wonderful job running the offense,” McKeivier said. “It was important that he come in and do a good job, and he did just that.”
ACCS played the game without head coach Paul Hayles on the sidelines.
Hayles’ mother was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer, and he was with her on Friday night.
McKeivier said the team dedicated Friday’s win to Hayles and his family.
“There’s not I finer human being I’ve ever worked for than Paul Hayles,” McKeivier said.
“He always said the three most important things are God first, then family, then school. And he’s a living example of that.”