Halfway through his first year as Eastern High School’s football coach, Stephen Ruckman said he’s already dreading the day this season comes to an end.
Yes, a 5-1 record and a No. 17 state ranking in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings will indeed make a coach’s heart grow fond.
“Any time there’s a change at the top there can be a revolt among the players,” Ruckman said. “But I really like these guys, and they at least tolerate me. I think we’re going to continue on and have a good season, but half of me already misses them. … I just wish we could keep playing all year.”
The Eagles will enter the homestretch Thursday night, hosting Ballard (3-3) in a key Class 6-A, District Five contest. With the other teams in the district struggling — Oldham County (2-4) and Fern Creek (1-5) — this one may well determine the regular-season champion.
“Our kids know this game can do a lot for our future,” Ruckman said. “But right now the only future we’re worried about is (Ballard).”
Ruckman replaced veteran Ken Whalen as coach during the offseason and has the Eagles flying high, their only loss coming to Butler 33-30 on Aug. 31. They have won three in a row since then, including an impressive 35-21 victory over Male on Sept. 21. They were off last week and didn’t accomplish as much as Ruckman would have liked.
“God had different plans for us with the weather,” he said. “It rained on our parade every day. … We got what we could out of it. We did a lot more mental stuff than physical stuff.”
Senior quarterback Cody Wolfe has passed for 1,328 yards and 10 touchdowns, and the Eagles have plenty of weapons who can both run and catch the ball. The leader is senior Tre Harrison (5 feet 11, 180 pounds), who leads the team in both rushing (436 yards, four TDs) and receiving (31 catches, 516 yards, four TDs).
“Because of his height, I guess he’s more of a running back that catches the ball as well,” Ruckman said. “He’s an overlooked guy. I’d take him over just about anybody I read about in the papers.”
Ballard, inconsistent all season, is coming off a 34-17 loss at No. 7 Warren Central last week. The Bruins are averaging just 17.7 points, a number coach Mike Jackson blames on red-zone issues.
“We’re moving the ball well, but we’re just not scoring,” he said. “With us being a spread team, we get inside the 20 and have a hard time. We’re like a knife through butter getting down there, and then we’ll have to kick a field goal or something.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Owen has passed for 862 yards and seven TDs, with senior receiver Cam Lewis (32 catches, 378 yards, three TDs) his top target. Junior Bennie Berry has emerged as the Bruins’ top rusher with 317 yards and three TDs.
Jackson said his team is looking forward to another chance to play a complete game.
“We’ve played three really good teams this year and come out on the wrong end of all three,” he said. “We didn’t play horribly in any of them, but we’d play great for two quarters and not show up for the other two. … We’re trying to show we can play four quarters against a next-level team like Eastern.”
* Eastern has designated the game as a “Pink Out” and will accept donations for the Louisville affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which conducts breast cancer education, screening, treatment and research. Fans are encouraged to wear pink, and pink T-shirts and sweatshirts will be sold during the game. The Eastern football program has raised more than $5,000 for Komen since 2010.