BELOIT - Head coach Rodney Wedig saw plenty of stellar performances in the second half of Beloit Memorial's 37-13 romp over visiting Madison East Friday night.
But the first Purple Knights he chose to acknowledge were two linemen whose work generally goes unheralded: senior guard Jhalen Banks and sophomore tackle Aiden Wright.
"Those were the first guys I congratulated for a good job," Wedig said. "At the half we made some offensive adjustments and we started running behind Banks and Wright. They opened holes and our backs ran hard."
The Purple Knights' running game churned out 360 yards on 52 carries, five for touchdowns. Radonis Smith (13 carries, 76 yards) and Fred Davis (12-for-64) got most of the carries in the first half as Beloit took a 9-7 lead.
In the third quarter, Wedig asked assistant coach Brad Dement to check on senior Eric Bridges' ankle injury, which kept him sidelined last week.
Beloit already had a 16-7 lead when Bridges got his first carry and took it five yards. On his next, he nearly took it to the house, galloping 65. He went on to carry the ball 12 times in the second half for 130 yards and a touchdown.
"I told them I was OK," Bridges said with a grin. "I hope we can keep this kind of intensity the rest of the season."
The Knights (1-3) picked up their first victory of the season heading into a tough three-game road swing to Middleton, Madison West and Madison Memorial. East remained winless.
The first half featured turnovers, penalties and little offense from either team. Beloit had one of its best players, two-way starter Matthew Wedig, hobble off the field late in the first quarter.
"(Teammate) Jaron Coleman's knee caught me in the shin when we were making a tackle," Wedig said. That was one of the few things Coleman did wrong all night, although more about that later. After East took a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard run by CJ Dean on the first play of the second quarter, Beloit defensive tackle Kevin Griffin fell on a fumble at the Purgolders' 24-yard line. Smith scored off right tackle on the next play, but a holding call nullified it. On the next play, with the ball still at the 24 because the foul occurred at the 14, Smith went off left tackle and scored again. Brayan Valenzuela's PAT tied the game.
The positive plays started happening for Coleman on East's next possession when he intercepted a pass to kill a drive at the Beloit 20. Playing wide receiver, he then laid out for a 29-yard reception that set up a field goal try. While the kick went wide, East couldn't move the ball and Wedig used a timeout with less than a minute remaining.
"I told them during the timeout that I didn't care if they got a running into the punter penalty because we'd stop them," Wedig said. "I said, 'Just everybody go and scoop it up. Don't fall on it."
Defensive tackle Kevin Griffin, a 5-foot-10, 280-pounder, blew up the middle and blocked the punt. He tried to take Wedig's advice, but ended up trying to dive on the ball and it bounced in and out of the end zone for a safety and a 9-7 lead.
"I came in pretty fast and just hoped for the best," Griffin said.
The Knights kept the momentum going in the second half.
It helped when East's punter, under another heavy rush, shanked his first punt of the third quarter for a 7-yarder that gave Beloit the ball at the Purgolder 36. The Knights scored in six running plays with quarterback Gannon Rand breaking a 13-yard TD run. Valenzuela's PAT made it 16-7.
Rand was just 4-of-10 for 79 yards through the air, but he and backup Shelvin Garrett combined for 11 carries for 74 yards. Rand had 6-for-24 and Garrett 5-for-50 and a score.
The Knights did lose a fumble of their own in the third quarter, but that was negated by Coleman's second interception with 5 minutes left. Bridges' awesome return to action followed and Rand's 2-yard keeper for a 23-7 lead.
"I thought we could use a spark and (Bridges) certainly gave us one," Wedig said. "It's great to have that kind of depth at running back."
East quarterback Ian McCosky scored on a 41-yard scamper with 1:39 left in the third quarter that cut it to 23-13, but the Knights got a 6-yard TD run by Bridges and 5-yard TD run by Garrett. Valenzuela booted all the PATs for the 37-13 final.
"If you're a fan of offense you didn't like the first half much, but at halftime we were able to adjust some things," Wedig said. "We were able to play the field position game because we got some turnovers and we ran the football so well."
Wedig's son Matthew didn't stay out for long after his encounter with Coleman's knee. He was back in the second half at his linebacker spot and throwing mostly blocks on offense, although he managed to run three times for 19 yards.
"The first half we didn't play well, but we controlled the second half," Wedig said. "If we can play like this, I think we can go up there and beat Middleton."
Griffin said the Knights are a different team when they play with confidence.
"We knew East wasn't the greatest team, but we still have to play like they were Sun Prairie," he said. "To play this well and win on our home field means a lot. We have the power and people to keep doing it, We just have to play like a team."
• UP NEXT: Beloit Memorial is at Middleton next Friday. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
• BOXSCORE: Beloit Memorial 37, Madison East 13.
Mad. East.....0 7 6 0 - 13
Beloit Mem....0 9 14 14 - 37
ME - Dean, 4, run (Dean kick)
BM - Smith, 24, (Valenzuela kick)
BM - Safety, Griffin blocked punt out of end zone
BM - Rand, 13, run (Valenzuela kick)
ME - McCosky, 42, run (pass failed)
BM - Bridges, 6, run (Valenzuela kick)
BM - Garrett, 5, run (Valenzuela kick)
TEAM STATS: First downs - ME 8, BM 21. Rushing - ME 31-137, BM 52-360. Passes ME 4-19-3, 59 yards; BM 4-11-0, 79. Fumbles - ME 3-2, BM 3-2. Punts - ME 5-30.0, BM 2-37.5. Penalties - ME 8-45, BM 9-70.
INDIVIDUAL LEADERS: Rushing - ME, De. Clay 11-29, McCosky 6-73, Dean 14-36. BM, Bridges 12-130, Smith 13-76, Davis 12-64, Rand 6-24, Garrett 5-50. Passing - McCosky 4-19-3, 59. BM, Rand 4-10-0, 79; Garrett 1-0-0. Receiving - ME, De. Clay 2-44, BM Coleman 2-53.