NORTH EAST — The offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs gathered around the stacks of open pizza boxes piled high in the Rising Sun locker room on Monday and enjoyed a rare treat following varsity football practice.
It was a reward, head coach Clem Vaughan explained, for their effort in Friday’s season-opening win over Cambridge-South Dorchester — a second seed in the 1A playoffs a year ago.
Behind a historical performance from a first-year starter at tailback, the Tigers piled up 432 rushing yards and five touchdowns in a 42-28, come-from-behind win. It marked the program’s first Week 1 victory in nine years and continued the momentum from a season ago when it won six of its last seven contests to finish just outside the 2A East Region playoff picture.
“I thought we could score when we wanted to. We made some mistakes in the red zone, but we played pretty well for our first game. We’ll keep getting better,” Vaughan said. “[Cambridge-SD] was very physical, very fast and we had to be on our game. They handled it.
“I can tell you right now, and the kids from last year would get mad at it me, but we probably wouldn’t have won this game last year.”
This time a season ago, the Rising Sun football team was diligently — and quietly — building a Wing-T offense that would soon roll to over 3,000 rushing yards and help deliver the program the Susquehanna Division crown. Growing pains led to losses in three of the Tigers’ first six games, albeit against 3A school C.M. Wright, eventual 2A State semifinalist Elkton and playoff-bound Catoctin, a Western Maryland school that finished the year 10-2.
“Learning situations where we got down a little bit but didn’t get afraid, we handled ourselves — that wasn’t there at the beginning of last year,” reflected Vaughan, who took over as head coach a season ago after a five-year hiatus — a period in which the Tigers enjoyed just one winning season. “When we got down Friday, we were confident enough we could still win the game. They stuck with it and came away with the ‘W.’”
Trailing 20-19 in the third quarter on Friday, Rising Sun exploded to outscore the visiting Vikings 23-8 and win by a large margin.
Senior Ben Ehrhart, making his first career start at running back, rushed for a program-record 320 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries, breaking the school’s single-game mark previously held by fellow senior Noah Boyd (317 yards set last season against Patterson Mill).
Prior to that, Rising Sun’s single-game rushing record was held by Eric Williams, who ran for 313 yards during a contest back in 2000.
“Honestly, I didn’t feel like I had that much at all. I was surprised when I heard I broke the record,” Ehrhart said. “I was just looking to benefit the team, honestly. I didn’t expect it. Obviously the O-line helped me out a lot, but I just hit the holes as fast as I could. That’s all I really did.”
Boyd, who suffered a knee injury during last spring’s lacrosse preseason, is expected to return to the Tigers’ running back rotation before the end of the regular season. Ehrhart, a forward on the Rising Sun lacrosse team, is the reigning two-time All-County Boys’ Lacrosse Player of the Year.
“He’s one of the ones to encourage me to play this year, actually,” Ehrhart said of Boyd. “I expected to play defense more than I’d play offense because when I played football in the past, I always played defense.”
Ehrhart, who also added a pair of catches for 45 yards and a score, proved he belongs on both sides of the ball and squarely in the sights of opposing defensive coordinators.
“I think lacrosse comes into play when it comes to some of [my success], but most of it’s the offensive line and how good they did Friday night,” he said. “The holes were huge, I just ran through them as fast as I could.
“We just practice repetition, repetition, and the O-line executed in the game Friday night,” he continued. “They made it easy for us running backs. To be able to do that against a good team like that is very encouraging for the rest of the season.”
With Boyd (1,849 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago) on the sideline for Friday’s game, Ehrhart racked up 365 total yards and five touchdowns while fellow back Justin Brooks piled up 87 yards rushing on 14 carries with one touchdown and a pair of 2-point conversions. Cade Eyman also contributed five carries for 25 yards.
Vaughan expects the team’s lead rusher from a year ago to join the stable of ball carriers once he’s medically cleared to play.
“Oh, it’s going to be pretty scary,” Vaughan said of Boyd’s imminent return. “It’s could very well not just be a two-headed monster but a three-headed monster. Anyone in that backfield is capable of [having a big game]. It just depends on what the defense is giving us. We’re going to take advantage of it.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig