Sometime early in his sophomore season, Murray’s Andrew Rider stopped stressing over simply catching the football and began focusing on his end goal as a punt returner.
The rest is history — national history.
Rider, who fumbled his way off the field at times as a freshman, stamped his name at the top of the national high school list for career punt return touchdowns Friday night when the 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior ran his career total to 12 with a 55-yard score against Lamoni.
“My freshman year, my mind was just on catching the ball. And when I got that down, everything clicked with it,” he said. “(Now) I’m looking for the biggest opening and following my blockers.”
Surprisingly, the opportunities have increased this season as Rider climbed the national list. He had 29 chances to return punts during his sophomore and junior seasons combined. He had 20 during the regular season this year when he scored five touchdowns and averaged 24.4 yards per try.
Murray coach Keith Shields said Rider’s vision and ability to stop, make a cut and accelerate make him tough to defend in the open field.
“He’s better at that than anybody I’ve ever had,” Shields said. “He also sets some people up by going one direction and getting them to commit and then he makes that quick cut and goes in the other direction.”
Rider has his eyes on more records in the playoffs as Murray (8-2) opens the eight-player postseason at home tonight against Wayne of Corydon (6-3). He tied the state single-season record for interception returns for scores with four, though he’s been stuck on that number since the fourth game of the season.
“Right timing, right spot,” Rider said of the early-season flurry.
Here are three more record chases worth watching during the playoffs:
* Iowa City Regina’s pursuit of the longest winning streak in state history: The Regals break up each postgame celebration huddle by yelling in unison the number of consecutive games they’ve won. The figure reached 51 last week, leaving the top-ranked team in Class 1-A five victories short of breaking the record held by Waterloo East (1965-71). If the Regals keep winning, the record-setting victory would come in the state final.
Iowa City Regina is tied with Ithaca (Mich.) for the longest current winning streak nationally.
* Clifford Kwaw-Mensah’s dash up the state single-season rushing chart: The Ames star broke his own school record Friday with 326 yards against Johnston, bringing the Class 4-A and state single-season rushing records within striking distance if the third-ranked Little Cyclones (9-0) can make a run to the UNI-Dome.
Kwaw-Mensah ran for 2,139 yards during the regular season, leaving him 607 short of the 4-A mark set in 2000 by Terrance Freeney of Cedar Falls and 1,099 behind the state record established in 2008 by Brandon Wegher of Sioux City Heelan.
If the Little Cyclones reach the title game, Kwaw-Mensah would need to average 220 yards per contest to break Wegher’s record. The speedy Ames senior averaged 255 yards per game during the final eight weeks of the regular season when he surged to the top of the state rushing chart.
* BGM of Brooklyn and Adair-Casey’s push for the state scoring records: The most-prolific scoring teams in the 11- and eight-player games, respectively, are on course to wipe out the records for points in a season if they can maintain their pace.
Adair-Casey piled up 615 points during the regular season (68.3 per game) and needs 276 to tie the eight-player national record set in 2011 by Fremont-Mills of Tabor.
BGM, ranked No. 1 in Class A, has been limited to 41 and 19 points during the past two weeks after averaging 65.6 points per game during its first seven games. The Bears need to score 239 points during the playoffs to match the 11-player scoring record established in 2010 by Madrid.