As Collegiate coach Mike Gehrer conducted his postgame speech Friday night at Andale, most of the Spartans dropped to a knee and huddled around him. Not senior Markus Phox.
He stood there with his arms crossed, nodding his head in agreement at Gehrer’s words, occasionally saying, ‘yeah, yeah.’ When Gehrer was done, Phox had final words for his teammates.
“This is Markus’ team,” Gehrer said.
Phox not only led the Spartans, a role he takes seriously, he was a huge factor in Collegiate’s 41-27 victory at Andale in the season opener.
Phox, who moved from quarterback to wide receiver when Landon Root transferred to Collegiate last winter, had 116 receiving yards, two receiving touchdowns and 66 rushing yards on four carries. He also had an interception on the game’s first play and, on a fourth down in the final minutes, knocked down an Andale pass.
“We’ll try to get him the ball in many ways,” said Gehrer, who was coaching his first game in seven seasons. “When we run him across the formation, hand him the ball in the jet sweep. We’re going to run the quick screens to him. You put him one-on-one on the perimeter with people, he’s tough to cover.”
Phox didn’t take credit, instead pointing out several times that he got the open looks because of the stellar blocking of his fellow wide receivers.
Root, who was starting for the first time, was just as dangerous for Collegiate. He finished with 140 passing yards, completing 9 of 18 passes. He also had 97 rushing yards on 20 carries for four touchdowns — two passing and two rushing.
Root threw an interception that Andale’s Logan Horsch returned 29 yards for a game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But Root answered by leading the Spartans on an 11-play, 68-yard drive, their longest of the night, to retake the lead four minutes later.
Yet Root passed the accolades to his teammates.
“My job is to get the ball to them, and they do all the plays,” he said. “I’m just throwing them the ball. I’m trying to get (Phox) a (Division I) scholarship. That’s my goal for him.”
Collegiate scored touchdowns on two of its first four possessions, both times starting in Andale territory. On the second touchdown, Root went through all his reads, patiently sitting in the backfield, before finding Phox for a 16-yard pass.
Andale finally got its offense going midway through the second quarter when Gabe Probst capped a four-play drive with a 5-yard run. Three minutes later, Jake May scored on a six-yard run that had been set up by Kyle Armstrong recovering a Root fumble.
With Andale trailing 20-15 late in the second quarter, quarterback Jared Smarsh led the Indians on an 11-play, 71-yard drive. Smarsh connected with Ben Seiler in the end zone as time expired, and Andale took the 21-20 lead into the half.
“In the second quarter, I think we just settled in (offensively),” said May, who had 72 rushing yards on 10 carries. “We fought hard all game.”
Andale used eight ball carriers, with Smarsh finishing with a team-high 89 rushing yards on 10 carries. Probst had 76 yards, Hunter Knoblauch 64.
“It’s what they do,” Gehrer said of Andale’s success running the ball. “It’s Andale football. We’re not a big physical group.”
Yet after Andale tied the score at 27-all on Horsch’s interception, Collegiate responded with a long, physical drive. After the Spartans’ defense forced Andale to turn the ball over on downs, running back Isaiah Franklin went 51 yards for a touchdown and the 14-point lead.
Franklin finished with a game-high 129 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“That was an awesome game-changer, an incredible play,” Root said.
Andale battled back. May ran 28 yards to the Collegiate 18. But facing fourth-and 5 from the six, Smarsh threw to the end zone and Phox batted the ball down.
“That was incredible,” Phox said. “They ran it down there, and I totally missed it. On film, Coach (Troy) Black is going to own me. So I was like, ‘they are not getting that again.’”
C—Root 3 run (Moxley kick)
C—Phox 16 pass from Root (Moxley kick)
A—Probst 5 run (Seiler pass from Probst)
A—May 6 run (Johnson kick)
C—Carder 1 run (kick blocked)
A—Seiler 5 pass from Smarsh
C—Phox 14 pass from Root (Moxley kick)
A—Horsch 29 interception return (missed kick)
C—Root 2 run (Moxley kick)
C—Franklin 51 run (Moxley kick)