MULVANE—Maybe a running back duel was all Riley Allen needed to get going this season.
And if by “get going” we mean that he:
- posted a game with 200-plus rushing yards;
- provided a signature, long touchdown run;
- outdid his opposite number;
- and answered the bell repeatedly for Buhler, then…
…well, the Crusaders and their fans have been spoiled.
Especially because the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder’s sensational performance in Buhler’s 35-28 comeback win (the second straight come-from-behind win by that exact score) over Mulvane erased a first half full of setbacks via turnovers.
It also got the Crusaders’ defense off the hook as they allowed Mulvane’s Michael Mason – a bruiser at 5-11, 200 pounds – to rumble for 280 yards on 28 carries, highlighted by TD runs of 63 and 80 yards, both broken after he made initial contact with defenders.
But a win’s a win.
Buhler knows the way it’s won the last two weeks isn’t a sustainable pattern. And coach Steve Warner won’t say his team is perfect at this point in the season, but he’s also not going to apologize for how they’ve grinded out two quality wins (last week against Wichita Collegiate) to stay perfect at 3-0.
“We know we’ve been there before and we know we can come back and win,” Warner said. “We’ve got to alleviate the mistakes.”
Mason’s 80-yard run came on the heels of the first of two interceptions by sophomore quarterback Jace Williams late in the second quarter.
The other pick gave Mulvane the ball with 17 seconds left in the half, and quarterback RJ Rieger – who replaced starter Trevor Wayman on the Wildcats’ second offensive series of the game – hit wide out Collin Dempsey for a 28-yard TD pass.
But once Buhler decided to feed Allen in the second half, the senior took over.
“We started a little bit slow, but we’re definitely a second-half team,” Allen said after the game. “The thing about last week, also, a second-half team maybe. We definitely need to start coming out hard, coming out quicker and get the game going, but yeah – it was frustrating.”
He took that frustration out for much of the second half, gashing Mulvane (2-1) for most of his 293 rushing yards.
Allen scored twice to cap third-quarter drives but saved his best scoring run for last, after a questionable decision by Mulvane coach Dave Fennewald to punt on a fourth-and-two at Buhler’s 41-yard line – when Mason had totaled 237 yards on his 21 carries to that point with his team behind 21-20.
On a stretch run to the right side, Allen maneuvered his way into a seam and hurdled Wildcat defensive back Tyce Miller (pictured). He kept his feet, wove through a star-struck defense and went the distance for a one-play, 85-yard drive.
“That was an amazing run and a great hold by the line,” Warner said. “That was a big play, a big turnaround. We got all the momentum right there.”
It also gave Allen the lead in rushing yardage in that aforementioned contest.
“Honestly, we’ve been what you would call ‘bros’ since freshman year,” Allen said of Mason. “We played freshman ball against each other, we ran track and built a relationship a little bit … and a running back competition.”
Both running backs carried their respective offenses, though Allen – who took a shot to his left knee but kept playing – got some help from fullback Denton Branscom. He came up big, too, and also recorded a season-best rushing performance with 16 rushes for 126 yards.
“Denton’s doing amazing with the things he can do,” Warner said. “He’s not a true tail back. He could be, but Riley’s always been there, so he’s still learning how to play the position. He’s been hurt all week, so we’re proud of him for coming and being able to play.”
He scored the decisive TD from three yards out with 2:22 left in the game while spelling Allen, who had a 32-yard run on the drive.
It was game played almost exclusively on the ground with 780 combined rushing yards, and Buhler had the edge (468-312) thanks to Allen.
Did it feel good to know he came out on top?
“Of course,” Allen said with a smile.
He’s on track after sparring with Mason. And, luckily, Buhler remains so, too.