No Barry Sanders. No Sterling Shepard. No problem. At least not yet for Heritage Hall.
The Chargers lost their superstar running back and receiver from one year ago to graduation, but they were not missed Thursday night because of A.J. Knowles and Chedon Shockley.
Knowles scored twice and rushed for 102 yards on 16 carries, while Shockley had 90 yards receiving as the Chargers downed Casady, 30-8, at Hoot Gibson Field.
Knowles isn't the same kind of runner as Sanders, but the 6-1, 215-pound junior was just as effective against the Cyclones, doing most of his damage in the second half when the game was in doubt.
“A.J. is a pounder,” Heritage Hall coach Andy Bogert said. “To be honest with you, we are kind of scared to tackle him in our practices. He is a load and he goes straight ahead. He is hard to bring down.”
Shockley, a 5-10, 175-pound senior receiver, will be used much like Shepard was in the Chargers' offense last season. On Thursday, he was the favorite receiver of sophomore quarterback Connor McGinnis, who completed 10 passes, eight to Shockley.
“Chedon is so versatile,” Bogert said. “We can play him just about anywhere we want to play him. We play him multiple positions on offense and multiple positions on defense. We have always liked to move guys around. We are going to try to get him the ball as much as we can.”
Defensively, the Chargers sacked Casady junior quarterback Drew Cook four times. The biggest came midway in the fourth quarter by the Chargers' Demaria Walters on a fourth-and-7 when the Cyclones were trying to rally from a 16-8 deficit.
The 12-yard loss gave Heritage Hall possession on the Cyclones' 36 and the Chargers scored five plays later, with Knowles carrying the ball four times for 29 yards and scoring the decisive touchdown from the 3.
Just 43 seconds later, Domonique James intercepted a Cook pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown and what had been a hard-fought, tight ballgame for 3½ quarters was suddenly lopsided.
“We decided we wanted to come after them. We didn't want to give them a chance to put it up,” Bogert said. “They've got some pretty good receivers. We wanted to pressure the quarterback and make him uneasy and I think we did that.”
Cook said the Cyclones played well for three quarters, but being one-dimensional caught up with them.
“You can't rely on passing the whole game,” he said. “We got to find a run game. They were getting pressure up the middle and we couldn't do much. Their linebackers are fast and they would come right off the edge it seemed like they would (on me) in no time.”
Knowles said Thursday night's victory proves the cupboard isn't bare at Heritage Hall.
“A lot of people thought we weren't going to be the team we were without Sterling and Barry, but we got a lot of heart,” Knowles said.
The Chargers now face a brutal three-week stretch of games where they play Clinton, Davis and Kingfisher.
“The caliber of competition is going to go up,” Bogert said. “We just got to be ready. If we can stay healthy through those games, we are looking forward to the latter part of the year and getting on a roll.”