With new faces in some key places, it’s difficult to know if reigning Class 6A champion Derby was dependent on a good start to its season opener Friday against Eisenhower.
But the Panthers got it. And the results looked similar to many of the games during their 2015 title run.
Derby, No. 1 in 6A, scored 20 points in the first eight minutes and rolled to a 55-20 victory over Eisenhower that ended with a running clock. Senior Dan Dawdy passed for 150 yards and a touchdown, and junior Brody Kooser ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns as both moved into starting roles.
“It started with our special teams, I thought, and then our defense came out pretty strong and got us a stop,” Derby coach Brandon Clark said. “We’ve pushed the kids harder than we’ve ever pushed them this early in the season.
“That’s because Week 7 (district play) was what really mattered in the old playoff system. Now Week 1 matters. We pushed them pretty hard and they responded.”
Dawdy, taking over for all-state performer Brady Rust at quarterback, also ran for 30 yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers dominated Eisenhower, a 5A semifinalist last season.
“I thought Brody Kooser did a good job running the ball and Dan did a good job of being a field general,” Clark said. “That’s who he is. He gets the ball to some special players, but he just did a good job running our whole offense.”
Derby, with seven returning defensive starters, won its 11th consecutive game dating back to a loss to 5A champion Mill Valley last season.
Derby scored on its first three possessions, taking advantage of a short field for two early touchdowns. After forcing Eisenhower to punt on its opening possession, the Panthers drove 33 yards in four plays. Dawdy scored his first touchdown on a keeper from the 1.
Derby senior Tanner Igo set up the Panthers’ second touchdown with a 32-yard punt return into Eisenhower territory. After a 15-yard run by Kooser and 10-yard run by Dawdy moved Derby inside Eisenhower’s 10, the Panthers got into the end zone on fourth down, as Kooser took an option pitch around the right side for a 13-0 lead.
The Panthers, who averaged 46.5 points last season, made it 20-0 with a quick-striking 66-yard drive. Dawdy completed two consecutive passes – the second a 49-yarder to junior Michael Littleton on a post route – to move to Eisenhower’s 5. Two plays later, Dawdy scored on a keeper from the 3.
“We didn’t come out and execute like we needed to,” Eisenhower coach Marc Marinelli said. “And you have to give Derby a lot of credit. They are so well-coached and man, they are fast.”
Derby outgained Eisenhower 142-36 in the first quarter. The Tigers got a 38-yard completion from quarterback Mason Madzey to Tryston Peppard, but its other 16 plays in the opening quarter went for minus-2 yards.
Madzey got Eisenhower’s offense rolling early in the second quarter, leading a 77-yard touchdown drive, all on the ground. Madzey’s sneak from the 3 cut Derby’s lead to 20-7.
But the Panthers quickly foiled the momentum. Igo took the ensuing kickoff up the Derby sideline, weaving through defenders for a 97-yard touchdown return. Seventeen seconds after Eisenhower scored, Derby’s lead was 27-7.
“Tanner is special on special teams,” Clark said. “He was a little gassed after that kick return, but he found a small crease and did a good job of taking it all the way.”
The Panthers, who had 203 yards in the first half, made it 34-7 late in the second quarter. Kooser ran for 21 yards, Dawdy connected with Kai Lemons for a 10-yard pass, and Kooser followed with a 30-yard touchdown with 2:34 remaining.
Derby erased any doubt early in the third quarter, scoring on a 65-yard pass from Dawdy to Littleton. Littleton finished with two receptions for 114 yards.
A pair of reserves – sophomore running back Jackson Syring and junior quarterback Brett Westerman – added third-quarter touchdowns for Derby to make it 55-7.
Madzey, who finished with 96 yards on 17 carries, left the game late in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Marinelli said he kept him out the rest of the way as a precautionary measure, and expected him to return for next week’s game against Maize.
Eisenhower reserve quarterback Tyler Trudo ran 49 yards for a touchdown to make it 55-14 on the final play of the third quarter. Freshman fullback Parker Wenzel scored on a 5-yard run on the game’s final play.
D—Dawdy 1run (Tullis kick)
D—Kooser 1 run (kick failed)
D—Dawdy 3 run (Tullis kick)
E—Madzey 3 run (Greening kick)
D—Igo 97 kickoff return (Tullis kick)
D—Kooser 30 run (Tullis kick)
D—Littleton 65 pass from Dawdy (Tullis kick)
D—Syring 3 run (Tullis kick)
D—Westerman 1 run (Tullis kick)
E—Trudo 49 run (Greening kick)
E—Wenzel 5 run (No PAT)
Rushing—Eisenhower, Madzey 17-96, Trudo 4-60, Loveland 8-37, Wenzel 4-26, MacKinnon 2-22, Roy 3-15, Peppard 3-5, LeGrande 2-1, Orand 3-(-3), Ellingson 2-(-4). Derby, Kooser 11-132, Syring 5-32, Dawdy 7-30, H. Igo 2-11, Lemons 1-2, Westerman 2-(-2).
Passing—Eisenhower, Madzey 3-10-0-46, Ellingson 0-1-0-0. Derby, Dawdy 7-10-1-150, Westerman 1-1-0-6.
Receiving—Eisenhower, Peppard 1-38, King 1-9, Loveland 1-(-1). Derby, Littleton 2-114, Lemons 2-22, Tabor 2-11, Leon 1-6, Kooser 1-3.