Patrick Laird’s goal after running the ball more than 35 times in each of his team’s previous two wins, coming into Friday’s matchup against St. Monica, was to try to avoid big hits if possible.
The Mission Prep senior running back managed to do a pretty good job of eluding defenders throughout the night while racking up a career-high 284 rushing yards in a 24-6 victory at home against the Mariners (1-3).
He carried the ball 29 times in the best rushing game of his high school career.
Laird broke away for a 66-yard dash to score the Royals’ first touchdown on the third play of game, and he followed up with a 9-yard score on the ground five seconds into the second quarter.
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“Our offensive line worked so hard in the offseason, and they’re the strongest guys on the team,” Laird said. “I had some great holes tonight and our receivers gave me good downfield blocking. We used our strengths to our advantage.”
Mission Prep (3-1) also played its best defensive game of the season after giving up a combined 96 points in their first three games.
The Royals limited the Mariners’ top rusher, Jason Thomas, to 66 yards and kept him out of the end zone.
Their defense held St. Monica to 158 total yards and made a goal-line stand in the second quarter to maintain a 14-0 cushion.
The Mariners had four attempts at pounding the ball into the end zone in the red zone, but ran into a brick wall each time.
Leading the Royals defense, Carson Brown had two sacks and a crushing backfield hit on Thomas late in the game, drilling him just after he took the handoff.
“Our defense finally came around tonight,” Mission Prep coach Chad Henry said. “We’ve never been a team that has given up a lot of points. Now, they’re gelling and getting that game-time confidence. We’d like to hold teams to 14 points or less.”
Sophomore quarterback Patrick Miller struggled connecting with receivers, going 4-for-14 passing with 37 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
But Miller connected with tight end Evan Talbert on a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Talbert caught two passes for 19 yards, and Calvin Levisay hauled in two receptions for 18 yards.
“(Miller) is a young quarterback and he’ll get better,” Henry said. “We want to establish a downfield passing threat because then teams can’t sit on our run. We’ll have to get more balance.”
Carrying the bulk of the offensive load, Laird has 866 rushing yards this season and five touchdowns.
Laird’s long run early in the game to the right side of the field was a play they’d worked on earlier in the week.
“They were squeezing in and overloading the box,” Laird said. “I knew that if I got out to the outside, we’d have a touchdown.”
Henry said Laird pulled a hamstring in a 24-21 win against Rio Hondo that started the Royals’ three-game winning streak, a game in which Laird tallied 229 yards on 41 carries.
He has been playing through the injury and seemed to find his explosiveness Friday.
“He did a great job of bouncing to the outside tonight and using his blocking,” Henry said. “He’s a workhorse and a very intelligent kid.”
The Royals nearly took a 17-3 lead into halftime, but kicker Justin McKeague’s 42-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the crossbar.
McKeague drilled a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter, however, and converted each of his three extra-point attempts.
Henry said the Royals had trouble converting extra points last year, and and he’s pleased with McKeague’s consistency thus far.
“We extended his range tonight and he almost hit that 42-yarder,” Henry said. “When he didn’t, though, he didn’t get down. He kept a good attitude.”
After winning each of their past two games against Rio Hondo and St. Genevieve, Friday’s game was the Royals’ first comfortable win of the year.
They move on to play Linfield Christian, the eighth- ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section East Valley Division, according to maxpreps.com, next week at home.
“I like the way we’re progressing,” Henry said. “There are some things we can do better, but we’re controlling our run game how we want to and we’re going to get there with our passing. We have to continue play D.”