Niles freshman Rucker wreaks havoc against Buchanan

BUCHANAN — The Buchanan football team may not have known much about Niles’ Sam Rucker prior to Thursday’s home game against the rival Vikings.

They certainly do now.

In only his second varsity football game, the freshman wreaked havoc on the Bucks’ offense to the tune of two defensive touchdowns and propelled the Vikings to a 26-0 victory over Buchanan.

The win moves the Vikings to 2-0 for the first time since 2016 and avenges Niles’ 19-0 loss to the Bucks last season. Buchanan — the defending BCS champion — lost a regular-season game for the first time since Oct. 25, 2019.

Last season’s loss to the Bucks served as a major motivator for Rucker and his teammates.

“This one was pretty big,” Rucker said. “[Buchanan] was still trying to punch it in with a few seconds left last year. We needed to have this win.”

Rucker was responsible for two of the Vikings’ four touchdowns on the evening. Leading 6-0 in the second quarter, Rucker stripped the ball from Buchanan quarterback Connor Legault mid-throw and returned the ball 32 yards for a touchdown. Up 20-0 in the fourth with Buchanan threatening, Rucker jumped the passing route and intercepted LeGeault’s throw and raced 85 yards to the end zone for the game’s final scoring play.

“When I go for the blitz, the thing I do is I read where the ball is going,” Rucker said. “Wherever the ball is going, you have to follow the ball. Luckily, it ended up in my hand. I don’t get as much time on offense, so to get the touchdowns on defense felt pretty good.”

“He’s probably our leading scorer from the defensive side of the ball,” said Niles Head Coach Scot Shaw. “He had one last week and two this week and is just a freshman. He’s a stud.”

On offense, Julian Means-Flewellen got the ball rolling with a 16-yard touchdown run in the first to take a 6-0 lead. In the fourth quarter, quarterback Talon Brawley connected with Means-Flewellen on a four-yard touchdown pass.

Niles finished with a 231-173 advantage in total yards of offense, 228 of which came on the ground. Buchanan had just 28 rushing yards on 20 carries.

LeGeault completed 10-of-26 passes for 145 yards and two interceptions. The bulk of those yards came during the second half of the fourth quarter. Troy Holloway led the team with 8.5 tackles.

Niles had more opportunities to score, but struggled to convert on fourth down against the Bucks’ defense. The Vikings were just two out of eight on said conversion attempts.

“Defensively, we played hard,” said Buchanan Coach Mark Frey. “We gave up only two touchdowns from their offense and the other two from offensive miscues. We made a lot of mental mistakes tonight that we’re going to have to review on film and get corrected. Overall, we fought and I think that is a good statement for our team.”

Buchanan (1-1) will look to right the ship in time for its game against Watervliet next Friday. The Panthers (2-0) will be coming off a 49-0 win over Hartford.

“I think we did some good things tonight that overall we’re pleased with,” Frey said. “I gotta figure out what we can do offensively and we’ve got a lot of young linemen and so we have grown pains there. We’ll get things back on track and we’ll figure out what’s working for us.”

As for Niles, the Vikings will face their biggest challenge yet in undefeated Edwardsburg next week. The Eddies have defeated its first two opponents by a combined total of 93-0.

“We’ve just been talking about what it takes to win,” Shaw said. “How to act and how to get that done. I think offensively, what we’re running kind of suits us and defensively, what we do suits us. The biggest thing I think we’ve done is just instill a belief. You see what’s happening right now. They believe it.”

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