The Christopher-Zeigler-Royalton Bearcats, coached by former NFL star Anthony Hargrove, have been at the bottom of the Black Diamond for several years now. But Hargrove looks to have them moving in the right direction, as they had allowed just 41 points in their first three games.
Justin Townsend’s Fairfield Mules put up 42 on them Friday at the Train Yard, while the defense of the home squad kept their shutout streak going with their fourth in a row to start the season.
Aired It Out
Fairfield, typically a ground-and-pound attack on offense, went to the air 13 times, with junior quarterback Landon Zurliene completing eight for 203 yards and four touchdowns. In an extremely rare feat over the last decade, the Mule had more passing yards than rushing yards (164).
“We were able to run the ball a little, but boy we were able to throw it too. I don’t remember the last time we had a kid throw more than 200 yards in a game. Landon did that tonight, and I thought he was very efficient. It will open up things for us, but that all starts with the offensive line up front,” Townsend said. “I challenged the offensive linemen. Everyone is talking about our defensive group, which we are very good on defense, but I feel like we are pretty good on offense too. Our offensive line is pretty good and maybe they don’t get enough credit.”
Fairfield fired out fast, scoring 20 points in the opening quarter as they took advantage of two early turnovers by the Bearcats. CZR fumbled the ball away on their first offensive play and Fairfield scored two plays later when Zurliene hit tight end Kane Hixenbaugh for a 20-yard scoring strike to start the scoring.
The Bearcats ran just three plays on their second possession, ending with Grant Gordon throwing an interception to linebacker Kaleb Wells, who wrestled the ball away from the intended receiver.
“That was one of the best interceptions you will see. He went up and high-pointed the ball, came down with it,” Townsend said.
The Mules again needed just two plays to score, with Cade Carter scoring from 17 yards out for a rushing touchdown.
“I thought we came out pretty fired up and ready to go. Since week one when we lost the turnover battle with Sesser we have made it a point that is not something we want to make it a habit. The last three games, we have come out on top of the turnover battle,” Townsend said.
Fairfield forced a punt and got a third opening quarter score at 4:40 in the first when Zurliene hit Gilbert for a 50-yard play down the left sideline.
Bend But Don’t Break D
After the early blitzkrieg, the Bearcats were able to move the ball some on offense, led by the elusive Gordon at quarterback. Gordon was a move-in to the CZR program this year. But the Mule defense stiffened in their own territory when challenged, rising to the occasion each time they were faced with losing their scoreless streak.
Fairfield added a score early in the second quarter, getting a two-yard touchdown run from backup fullback Cameron Gardner. The score was set up by a 45-yard completion to Luke Dagg, taking the Mules to the Bearcat 17.
Christopher again moved the ball well and ran off nearly seven minutes on a 17-play drive that netted no points when they missed a 36-yard field goal try. It was a Dagg sack on third down that pushed the kick try back.
Fairfield punted with 41 seconds left in the half, but CZR took off only 18 seconds on their next possession.
That left Fairfield with 43 yards to go in 23 seconds. No problem. Zurliene found Colin Massie for a 23-yard completion, then after a spike, hit Hixenbaugh in the corner of the end zone for a score. They even left nine seconds on the clock for a 36-0 halftime lead.
Running Clock Early
Fairfield started the second half with the ball and marched 64 yards in seven plays. Once they got near the red zone, they again went to the air and Zurliene found Dagg for a 24-yard touchdown pass and a 42-0 lead with 8:51 left in the third.
That score started a running clock for the majority of the second half. The Fairfield defense stopped CZR at the 14 on their next possession. Then, late in the fourth quarter, CZR again challenged the shutout streak, getting all the way to the Mule five when the clock ran out. CZR tried to spike the ball to get off one more play, but a spike does not stop the clock in a running-clock situation.
“They had their first team offense in there driving all the way to the five and our second team defense kept that shutout,” Townsend said.
Gilbert went over 100 total yards for the game, rushing for 54 on six carries and adding 50 on one catch. Carter finished with 46 yards rushing and Wells had 35.
Gordon finished with 205 yards passing, completing 13-of-27. Elijah Reeves had four catches for 79 yards and Greg Fletcher had five for 71.
“I give credit to the Gordon kid. I said going in he would probably be the best quarterback we would see. I thought he did a nice job, extended plays and he was dangerous. If he got out of the pocket, he was trouble,” Townsend said. “They were giving up some short stuff underneath, but the big thing was for them to come up and make tackles. We did a good job of that. We thought they would have a hard time doing that all the way down the field.”
Colin Massie again led the defense in tackles with six solos and three pass deflections, while special teams maven Isaac Sork had 3 ½ total tackles.
Fairfield (4-0) will be home once again Friday, hosting Carmi (3-1) for the annual week five rivalry week game. Kurt Simon’s Bulldogs are coming off a hard-fought 16-14 win over Edwards County Friday. Elsewhere in the BDC, Sesser-Valier beat Eldorado, 36-16, making the Mules the only undefeated team in the league; Chester beat Hamilton County, 33-13; and Johnston City beat Vienna, 48-0.