Lenoir-Rhyne ground game on record pace

When Ian Shields took over as Lenoir-Rhyne’s football coach in January, one area of concern was the team’s experience.

That concern didn’t extend to the offensive backfield, which has put up record numbers in leading the Bears to their first undefeated regular season since 1962.

Lenoir-Rhyne’s starting backfield – senior quarterback Miles Freeman, senior fullback Chris Robinson, and halfbacks Jarrod Spears, a senior, and junior Michael Patrick – have combined to put up record numbers for the Bears (11-0), who host Valdosta State in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs Saturday.

“We play for each other, really,” Spears said. “We don’t worry about all that other stuff. We depend on each other for performance, and we try not to be selfish about it.”

The Bears lead all NCAA divisions in rushing offense at 415.5 yards per game, 44.6 yards better than last season. They are on pace to top the D-II single season record of 404.8, set by College of Emporia (Kan.) in 1954.

If the Bears make another long run through the playoffs, they could break their own NCAA all-classifications record for total rushing yards in a season. That mark (5,563 yards) came during their run to the championship game last year. They have 4,571 entering Sunday.

“That whole group, I’m not surprised by what they’ve accomplished,” Shields said. “In our offense, there’s enough touches for all those guys to go around. They all care about each other, and they all care about winning.”

Robinson leads the team with 1,335 yards and 12 touchdowns. Spears has 919 yards and three TDs. Patrick has 676 yards and nine TDs. Freeman has 612 rushing yards and 12 TDs, along with 609 passing yards and five TDs.

Robinson – a backup who stepped up when two-time All-American Isaiah Whitaker was injured in the first game – is the first player at the school to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004, and the most since Leonard Davis had a school-record 1,559 yards in 1994.

“Everybody trusts in everybody else,” Patrick said. “We’ve got to trust that Miles is going to make the right reads, we’ve got to trust that C-Rob (Robinson) is going to run and hold onto the ball, I’ve got to trust in Jarrod that he’s going to make the blocks, and they’ve got to trust in me that I’m going to make my blocks.”

Those four – along with an offensive line led by all-South Atlantic Conference first team selections Jim Bayer, a senior guard, and junior tackle Joe Ray – have made life difficult for opponents’ defensive coordinators this season.

“They knock everybody back, and keep you on your toes,” Valdosta State coach David Dean said. “They’re a very tough team to defend. We know they’re going to get a lot of yards. We’ve just got to force them to drive the length of the field over and over. If we give them short fields, it’ll be a short day for us, because they can run us out of the stadium.”