Indians pull away from Red Devils for first victory

As the doors to the Indians locker room swung open, Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock” was blaring over the loudspeakers. The whoops and hollers of Anderson football players were louder than the music.

Fans had to be told multiple times to back away from the doors, as it was hard for many of them to contain their excitement. The Indians had just won their first game of the season -- a 26-3 decision against North Central Conference rival Richmond.

After two throttlings, in which the offense only scored a combined six points, to start the 2023 campaign, Anderson needed a win.

“You guys gotta want it,” senior Dontrez Fuller told his teammates before their contest against Richmond. “I can’t be the only one who wants it. If everybody wants it, we’ll get the job done.”

It’s safe to say the Indians (1-2, 1-0 NCC) got the job done.

Each side was heavily penalized in the first half, with a combined 13 flags making it hard for either squad to gain any momentum. However, huge plays gave both the Indians and Red Devils (0-3, 0-1) their respective chances to score.

With a little more than two minutes left in the second quarter, senior quarterback Payton Fetty found Fuller for a 68-yard gain, setting Anderson up at Richmond's 7-yard line. Two plays later, senior Steven Kline rushed for a 4-yard touchdown to put the Indians up 6-0.

Richmond fired back soon after, as senior quarterback Jayden Shipp connected with senior Havi Lapsley for a 52-yard gain with less than six seconds to go. At the 5-yard line, sophomore Ben Holliday nailed a field goal with 1.7 seconds remaining before the half.

The Indians and Red Devils traded turnovers throughout the third quarter, but neither side made a dent on the scoreboard.

On Anderson’s first drive of the fourth quarter, the Fetty-to-Fuller connection struck again, this time with a 65-yard gain through the air. Shortly thereafter, senior Antavion Reed trucked into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.

Reed was the lone bright spot for the Indians’ offense leading up to this contest, with a combined 23 rushes, 106 yards and a touchdown in the first two games.

“You just won’t go down,” one fan exclaimed to the running back.

He wouldn’t. Not even in practice, Anderson coach Jarrod Pennycuff said.

This is just Reed’s third game suiting up for the red and green, as he transferred from Anderson Prep prior to the season. Pennycuff said as soon as Reed came into the program, he told the APA transfer he would be the workhorse of the offense in 2023.

“I just keep going and push through,” Reed said. “I just love the game too much, and I just keep fighting. I’m really cocky. I don’t think someone can stop me. It’s gonna take a whole team.”

With a little less than three minutes left in the game, Fetty hit Fuller one more time for each of their first touchdowns of the season, a 14-yard reception to extend Anderson’s lead to 19-3. On the first play of Richmond’s drive to follow, Fuller intercepted a Shipp pass and returned it for a touchdown, and the Indians went up 23 points following the extra point.

“I love playing both sides of the ball, and I feel like I'm good enough to play both sides of the ball,” Fuller said.

Fuller credited both 60-yard connections to the man under center, dapping Fetty up in the process. Although Fetty is a first-time starter, Fuller said the two put in a lot of work together over the offseason to develop the chemistry they have now.

Despite his stellar performance against the Red Devils, Fetty called his performance in the first two games “unacceptable.”

Fetty said he looked up to former Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck when he was growing up, inspiring him to become a quarterback himself. After two rough starts once he got his chance, he said it felt great to turn things around against the Red Devils.

“I was waiting for it to happen,” Fetty said. “I knew I was a better quarterback than I was showcasing. I’ve always wanted to be a quarterback.”

Pennycuff said he gives Fetty an earful every game and practice because he expects a lot from him but has seen the first-time QB’s development even over the course of three games.

“I’ve been here since he was a freshman, and just seeing him mature means the world to me,” Pennycuff said.

While Anderson’s offense took the spotlight in the Indians’ win over Richmond, Pennycuff credited the defense for changing the trajectory of the game.

“I know we put (26) points on the board, but the defense is what gave us the opportunity to do that,” Pennycuff said.

The Indians’ defense forced three turnovers, two fumbles and an interception in the contest and didn’t surrender a touchdown. Kline and junior Jensen Shryock collected multiple sacks and tackles for loss.

The Indians travel to Marion next week, looking to build on the momentum gained from this morale-boosting NCC victory. Pennycuff said part of the problem in the first two games was setting his expectations too high for the Indians, pushing them to do things they aren’t capabale of.

Now, both the offense and defense have adjusted their gameplans, and Pennycuff felt Anderson’s triumph over Richmond proved the Indians have playmakers who can adapt to these changes and lead the program to more wins like this.

“The kids buying in, executing and coming together was really big for us,” Pennycuff.

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.