Stefan Rich is not your prototypical defensive tackle.
Because of injuries along Oakdale’s defensive line, Rich — who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 215 pounds — stepped into the position for the first time during practice this week.
Making his first career start on defensive line, Rich consistently pressured Gwynn Park’s offense with five tackles for loss and three sacks to lead the Bears to a 47-0 shutout over the Yellowjackets.
“Our schedule is a grind,” Oakdale coach Kurt Stein said. “The score might not look like it, but that’s a team full of athletes and guys who can make big plays. The kids had a good week of practice and they bounced back.”
It was a much needed homecoming win for the Bears (3-3), who took their lumps on the road the past two weeks with a one-point overtime loss at Linganore and a blowout defeat last Saturday at Class 1A power Fort Hill.
“We tried to bring the intensity a little bit more in practice this week, no feeling sorry for yourselves,” Stein said. “At this point in the season you’re all bumped and bruised up, but we just have to fight through it. We hammered through some conditioning and had to let the kids know we’re only at the halfway point and can’t throttle down.”
The Bears defense, which had surrendered 96 points the past two weeks, held the Yellowjackets to minus-22 rushing yards in the first half and just 130 total yards for the game.
Rich, who normally plays linebacker for the Bears, saw a big increase in his playing time Friday night while fighting through a bout of cramps during the game.
“Stef’s a good athlete and plays a lot of different positions on the field for us,” Stein said. “He had a great week of practice, learned what he needed to and had a great night.”
Said Rich, “Going through practice, it was a little hard. But during the week it got better with more reps, and it paid off on the field.”
His second sack of the night, after which he came out of the game briefly, led to a Yellowjackets punt with 3:51 before halftime.
Cameron Dorner’s fake punt run of 9 yards on 4th-and-7 extended the Bears’ drive that eventually led to Dorner’s lone catch of the night, a 15-yard touchdown from Joe Pippin to give the Bears a 26-0 lead with 42.9 seconds left before halftime.
Penalties doomed Gwynn Park (2-2) throughout, with the Yellowjackets committing 10 for 75 yards, not including two others the Bears declined.
An illegal block on the first play of the third quarter pushed the Yellowjackets back to their own 9, and Rich came through the middle with his final sack of Anthony Cancellor on the very next play.
“I just got fast off the ball and pushed through and made the tackle, that’s it,” Rich said.
Cancellor then threw an interception on second-and-37 to Evan Austin, setting up a 16-yard touchdown run by Hodges that extended the lead to 33-0 with 10:26 left in the third quarter.
Lined up in the backfield with Rich, Austin took the handoff and outraced the defense on a 61-yard touchdown run with 6:25 left in third quarter.
“Evan Austin can do a little bit of everything, and that’s what we like about him,” Stein said.
Joe Mambo capped the Bears’ scoring early in the fourth quarter with a rushing touchdown from a yard out.
Rich made his presence felt on the other side of the ball, getting into the act on the Bears’ second series of offense, bursting through with a 73-yard run before he was tackled at the 1.
He was rewarded with his first career touchdown on the very next play, lowering his shoulders and plowing behind his offensive line to give the Bears a 7-0 lead with 4:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Austin led the Bears with 122 yard rushing on seven carries. Rich added 75 yards on four carries.