O’FALLON, MO. — After the first two weeks, it appeared that Lutheran St. Charles running back Arlen Harris Jr. was playing a video game.
The Cougars’ sophomore already had amassed 449 yards rushing, scored eight touchdowns, and was averaging 19.2 yards per carry. But when the O’Fallon Christian defense held Harris in check in the first half on Friday, Lutheran St. Charles showed that it has plenty of other options.
Kyle Taylor scored two third-quarter touchdowns, Aaron Coffey threw for 197 yards, and the Cougars’ defense racked up 11 sacks, seven by Gabriel Rubio, as Lutheran St. Charles defeated O’Fallon Christian 34-7 on Friday.
In front of a huge, energetic crowd for the rivalry game, the O’Fallon Christian defense bottled up Harris, allowing him just 57 first-half rushing yards on 12 carries.
“I feel like we weren’t playing our game at first,” Harris said. “We were too focused on the hype and the people and we needed a wake up call.”
That alarm sounded when O’Fallon Christian (2-1) struck first. After Roddy Alexander broke off runs of 19 and 13 yards, quarterback Kaden McMullen found Kalin Black down the right sideline for a 29-yard touchdown to give the Eagles an early 7-0 lead.
Lutheran St. Charles (3-0) responded late in the half. After a Seth Tucker interception gave the Cougars the ball near midfield, Harris finally began to find some open real estate. He gained 44 of his 57 first-half yards on the drive, including a 10-yard burst up the middle on fourth-and-2, knotting the score at 7-7.
But the halftime intermission produced a change in attack. On the Cougars’ first offensive play, Coffey found Michael Parr Jr. over the middle for a 54-yard gain, placing the ball at the 1-yard line.
“It was a quick slant that we made deeper because their linebackers weren’t dropping that far,” Coffey said. “We needed a spark and I had to make one for my team.”
Harris was hobbled on the next play and exited the game, leaving the spotlight to sophomore Kyle Taylor Jr. First Taylor squeezed into the end zone to finish the drive, then on the next possession, saw Coffey rolling to his right and went to the end zone, catching a 25-yard strike to increase the lead to 21-7.
Coffey completed 13 of 17 passes for 197 yards, most of it in the third quarter with Harris on the sideline.
“If they key on Arlen, we can just beat them in the air,” Coffey said. “We just started rolling.”
In the meantime, Rubio and the defense were engulfing Kaden McMullen. The Cougars held O’Fallon Christian to negative 14 total yards in the second half.
“As the game progressed, we found a deep sense of urgency and we just went all out and dominated them,” Rubio said as a teammate squirted maple syrup in his mouth to celebrate his “pancake” blocks while on the offensive line. “Today we showed that we are better as a unit, playing together, instead of being individuals.”
Harris re-entered the contest and salted the game away with an electric 40-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, giving him 109 yards, and putting him over the century mark for the third successive game.
Harris split carries with senior Arcullous Heard last year, and is prepared to be the workhorse the team needs him to be this season.
“I have to get my wind back,” Harris said. “I’m used to getting 10 or 15 carries last year, now it’s 20 or 25 and I’ve got to be ready to get the ball back to back to back.”
And for Harris, it’s nice to know that are plenty of other options ready to contribute for the Cougars.
“I know when I go down, I can rely on them to pick me up, pick this team up and keep going,” Harris said. “This is a team game. I rely on my boys and they rely on me.”