McCrae Hagarty couldn't stop smiling.
Hard to blame him. The freshman had just finished playing in his first varsity game at Waverly-Shell Rock, an outing that could not have gone any better:
23 carries. 140 rushing yards. 6.1 yards per carry. A touchdown run that went for 47 yards.
It turned out to be exactly the boost the Go-Hawks needed, as they defeated West Delaware 15-8 on Friday night at home and snapped a four-game losing streak.
"It was awesome," Hagarty said following the game. "I love having those big guys open those holes for me."
The victory was absolutely crucial for Waverly-Shell Rock, which won its first district game of the year. A loss would have been crushing, but now the Go-Hawks are 2-4 and can live to die another day.
"It feels great. We’ve had a lot of frustration over these past four games because we know we haven’t been playing our best ball," senior quarterback Ethan Flege said. "We finally got out of that rut, and hopefully this turns the page for us."
The 15 points scored was the most W-SR has had in over a month — it scored 18 in the season opener at North Fayette Valley on Aug. 30. Over the past four games, the Go-Hawks have scored just 7.3 points per game.
But W-SR finally found an offensive groove Friday, which is no coincidence. Hagarty gave the Go-Hawks an edge they haven't had all season — a 5-foot-10, 185-pound back who can burst through the open holes and run downhill.
No clearer was Hagarty's impact than a minute into the third quarter. On 1st and 10 on West Delaware's 47 yard line, Hagarty took a handoff from quarterback Ethan Flege, ran through a hole in the right side of the line, exploded to the second level and sprinted to the end zone.
The long touchdown was a huge play for a Waverly-Shell Rock team that simply hasn't had them all year. It gave the team a 12-0 lead.
"I just saw a nice hole open for me," Hagarty said. "I had one safety, and I got past him and went for the touchdown. There was a wide open gap — I was happy."
There was buzz before the game that Hagarty might see some action. He had been a participant in the varsity team's practices the past week, and the team felt the way he was playing for the freshman team could translate to varsity.
But 23 carries? No one expected that. Not Hagarty. Not even head coach Mark Hubbard.
"As coaches we weren’t sure," Hubbard said. "We’ve been really beat up at the fullback position, but we weren’t really sure when to move him up. We wanted him to get acclimated and to learn the offense and those things so he could go out there and play fast.
"We just didn’t know how he would respond to a varsity game. We kind of hoped he would respond well, and that’s exactly what he did."
The first quarter of the game was monotonous and repetitive — no points were scored by either team, as they were intent on hiding their cards.
Pass attempts were scarce and rushing attempts were constant. Neither team moved the chains with a first down in a quarter with eight punts.
(W-SR junior Brady Ramker played quarterback in the first quarter, as Flege had to sit out for missing weightlifting during the week.)
But in the second quarter, Hagarty got the call. The freshman carried the ball five times for 30 yards in the period and spurred the Go-Hawks on a scoring drive that finished with a halfback touchdown pass from Payton Leonard to Cael White.
The trick play was exactly what the offense needed, and W-SR went into the half leading 6-0 after a missed extra point.
That lead turned to 12-0 almost immediately in the third quarter, as Hagarty had his breakout run for a touchdown. A 37-yard field goal from Donovan Wessel would make it 15-0 in the fourth quarter.
If it wasn't for a near pick-six that led to a West Delaware touchdown with about two minutes left in the fourth quarter, it would have been a shutout for the W-SR defense, which impressed all game.
The Go-Hawks held West Delaware's running back Cael Meyer to just 56 yards on 23 attempts attempts — good for a 2.4 yards per attempt. Quarterback Jared Voss completed just 5 of his 19 pass attempts, including an interception by W-SR's sophomore Layne McDonald.
"Defensively, our players played extremely hard," Hubbard said. "West Delaware is a very diverse offense, and we were able to settle in there and make some plays."
All of a sudden, Waverly-Shell Rock has some momentum. It has a good game plan too — pound the rock with Hagarty, protect the ball and play stifling defense.
It's not to late to make a late push toward the playoffs. The Go-Hawks will have to get another win next Friday at Waterloo East to keep their hopes alive.