Boyle County rushing attack the foundation on offense

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Landen Bartleson and Tanner Crawford have both enjoyed career seasons this year at running back for Boyle County.
The pair have combined for 45 touchdowns on the ground this year and 2,870 yards on 362 carries. It’s the first time Boyle County has had two runners with more than 1,000 yards in a season since 2010.

That season also marks the Rebels’ last state championship.

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Boyle’s strength this season has been in the trenches: On the offensive line, the Rebels start four seniors and one junior: Ryan McClelland, Zane Young, John Yeager, Ned Stephens and Will Bramel.

“We’ve just got a lot of experience up front, we’re all seniors and juniors,” McClelland said. “We came in and we wanted to be the leaders of the team because we’ve got a lot of sophomores out there in the skilled positions, so we want to lead up front and be the leaders of the team.”

That leadership has paid off. Both Bartleson and Crawford said that the leaders up front are the reason why they’re both averaging more than seven yards per carry.

“They’re our backbone on offense, if it wasn’t for them, me and Landen wouldn’t have the year like we’ve had,” Crawford said. “All they have to do is open a hole big enough for us to fit through and we’ll do the rest, but if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

Bartleson agreed.

“I wouldn’t have any of my yards without them,” he said. “Huge shout to them. They’re our backbone on offense, you can’t get anywhere without an offensive line. They’ve been working hard all year.”

The praise goes both ways. Yeager said that the offensive line has been good because of the skill guys behind them.

“I’d like to say that we’re good as an offensive line, but we have some great running backs behind us,” Yeager said. “It’s easy to block for two seconds as opposed to four seconds if you have somebody that’s not as good, not like Tanner or Landen. It’s a lot easier when you can open those holes and they can hit them real fast and precisely.”

The two running backs are known for different running styles — Bartleson is a speedster and 100-meter dash state champion, while Crawford is a bruiser. But Bartleson isn’t scared of a hit and Crawford has the speed to get away from defenders, evident in his 8.3 yards per carry.

Bartleson’s success as a sophomore has been noticed at the next level: After camps this summer and a strong season, he’s been offered by Louisville.

He said that his biggest improvement — aside from getting bigger, faster and stronger — has been reading his offensive line and the holes that it creates.

“This season, I worked on getting bigger, stronger and faster than last year. But I’ve worked on my vision a whole lot more,” Bartleson said. “Seeing things on the field has helped out a whole lot more, seeing the holes that our linemen create. That was a big step.”

Coming into the year, the offensive line knew that they had two special players behind them.

“I expected a lot from them, Tanner is an all-purpose back and Landen is too,” McClelland said. “Landen’s got that speed and I don’t really think anybody can catch him. Tanner, I think he’s just ran hard all season. It ain’t gonna be long before Landen finds a hole. He finds it and he goes. Once he goes, nobody’s fast enough to stop him.”

Yeager said that coming into the year, he and his fellow seniors knew that they had to step up and be an example for the team.

“We knew we had a lot of size and experience,” Yeager said. “A lot of the coaches knew that we had to push and be the leaders on our team. We were looking to just be the best that we could be to get where we are now. We’ve worked extremely hard to be where we are now, I’m really proud of how far we’ve come.”

Crawford and Bartleson each shared carries behind Gunner Ashburn last season. With Ashburn graduated, both running backs knew that they needed to step up.

“I knew that coming in I would be the starter, I had to pick my game up and be 10 times better than I was last year to give us a better chance,” Crawford said. “I feel like I have and the O-Line has helped me do that.”

It wasn’t all good during the regular season: The Rebels have one loss to their name, against Danville in the third game of the year.

Each player said that loss really opened eyes on the Rebels’ sideline after winning the first two games of the year in blowout fashion.

“They were probably one of the best defenses that we’ve played, and definitely the best we had played up to that game,” Yeager said. “It was kind of a smack in the face to experience that and it just told our whole offense, our whole team that we needed to get better and we weren’t as good as we thought we were. We just got better from there and kept getting better.”

Bartleson said that it really spoke to him and how hard he had to work as an individual.

“I think the Danville game as a whole changed our whole team,” he said. “They were good, but that was a winnable game. There were times that I don’t think we gave it all we could have.”

Throughout the year, Bartleson said he’s worked toward getting that scholarship offer. Now, he wants to prove that it’s no fluke.

“For me, a turning point this year would be getting my name out with the schools and colleges looking at me,” he said. “That made me hungry and stronger, strive to get my name out to where I could get an offer. When I got it, that made me strive even harder to get me out there further.”

Since the Danville game, Boyle has throttled every team it has played against. The Rebels haven’t given up more than 17 points in a game this year and have scored at least 40 points in all but three games.

One of those games was last week, a 14-7 victory at Elizabethtown. Yeager said that defensive front was as challenging as the Admirals, or even moreso.

“They were another great defense that we played, Danville being close to them,” Yeager said. “Their front four were really tough for us. We knew it was going to be a hard defense to play against and we’ve got another hard defense coming up. It was a test for us, we’ve just got to keep working and practice hard.”

Now, the Boyle rushing attack will face another staunch defense in Corbin: The Redhounds have allowed 1,046 yards on the ground this year through 14 games — just 75 yards per game.

“I think on the offensive side, we need to be aggressive, make holes for our running backs and move the ball,” McClelland said. “We need to score more than we did last week, 14 points ain’t gonna win it for us. They’ve got size, they play really aggressive. They’re really just aggressive, that’s what they do best. That’s how they got there.”

Bartleson said he expects a challenging, physical game.

“I expect it’s going to be a long, hard, physical game,” he said. “But I think we’re preparing well this week. Their defense is good, I just feel like we’ll come out on top. This senior class is motivated and we’re all motivated to get that ring.”