SPRINGFIELD >> For a moment during the third quarter, there was confusion. All of a sudden, No. 24 was taking carries in the Springfield backfield.
On the Cougars roster, No. 24 is Jake Bush, a junior varsity reserve. This was not him. It was the guy one would expect to carry the ball — Ja’Den McKenzie. His familiar No. 13 jersey had ripped a few plays earlier. So, he switched uniforms and returned to the field.
That little moment of intrigue was one amid an impressive season-opening performance from McKenzie and the Cougars, who took care of Glen Mills 28-8 Friday in nonleague action.
“It’s a nice thing to have,” said Springfield coach Chris Britton of his star running back. “Mr. Ripped — he’s more worried about his number.”
McKenzie rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns (for the record, he had 109 yards has No. 13 and 51 as No. 24). He also returned a fumble 96 yards for another score. It was a fitting performance.
His first touchdown came on the game’s first play from scrimmage on a 57-yard burst. His final carry of the night was a six-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that put the contest away.
“I just saw big, green grass in front of me,” explained McKenzie of his first-quarter run. “So I just took off, I had to go.”
Jack Psenicska, making his first start at quarterback, threw for 165 yards and one touchdown. He found super athlete Kyle Long — making his return to football after a year off — five times for 95 yards. The most impressive connection was a 31-yard score in the second quarter.
Long ran right up the seam, and in stride caught the ball over his shoulder and his crossed the goal line.
Britton was pleased with that, but mostly, with Psenicska’s ball control.
“I think he did great,” the veteran coach said. “I didn’t see any mistakes. Did we make every read, did we make every throw? No. But he went through the progressions, he didn’t put us in any danger. He didn’t make any mistakes that put us at risk, so I’m happy.”
The defense yielded 266 yards to Glen Mills, which despite the result, impressed. It put together a few decent drives, but the first ended in McKenzie’s fumble return and another on downs. The Battling Bulls scored late in the game on Tarik Bey’s three-yard bootleg.
The shutout was gone for Springfield. The victory, though, was more meaningful.
“It’s gotta be good,” McKenzie said. “It tells us how we’re going to finish and start the season. This was (the) first game — big importance, really important to us. Important to set the tone for the season and just get ready.”
Springfield will have to be prepared next week. It’s not even Labor Day, but Central League play will begin when Conestoga visits. Britton was relieved, specifically defensively, to get his new players game experience. They forced two fumbles and picked off a pass. Those were positives. The 10 penalties were a negative. That the mixed bag that late August football brings.
“There was a lot of good things,” Britton said. “Just consistency. We had some penalties — I think it’s just first-game penalties — I hope they are. Just a lot of mistakes, and I hope we clean it up as we go.”