Undefeated Rusk Eagles Have Already Matched Last Season’s Regular-Season Win Total
When the Rusk Eagles snuck into last season's playoffs with a 3-7 record, few took notice. After all, Rusk began the year by losing its first five games.
Through three weeks in 2012, Rusk (3-0) isn't sneaking up on anyone. Not anymore.
The Eagles, coming off a 45-6 rout of Eustace last Friday, are outscoring their opponents 127-25.
Rusk head coach Ted Patton, in his fifth season on the job, says experience has been the biggest factor in the program's turnaround.
“A lot of it’s due to the amount of kids we have back; we have eight starters back on both sides of the ball," Patton said. "Seven of those kids started for us a sophomores. And we took a lot of lumps that year when they were sophomores.
"Offensively, we really knew what we’re doing coming into the year and we’re obviously having success running the football. Defensively, we’ve matured and we’re better up front than we’ve been in the past.”
Patton credits last season's finish to the season, which included the Eagles' first playoff win since 2006, as a catalyst to the undefeated start to this year.
“Our kids got a taste of the playoffs after a rough start to the season," Patton said. "The team showed their resiliency last year after starting 0-5, making the playoffs and going a couple of rounds. Our kids got a taste and they’re hungry and have the urgency to get back.”
Before last season's breakthrough, Rusk was just 12-18 in Patton's first three years on the job.
“I’m really proud of the kids," Patton said. "Last year we started out slow, but our kids and coaches stuck with it and our community stuck with me also and let me try to get the program back to the point where it’s successful.”
Rusk's brightest standout has been senior running back and defensive back Chaston Bennett (5-9, 160). He ran for 277 yards on just 14 attempts and made 19 tackles on defense in last week's victory. For the season, Bennett has rushed for 638 yards and six touchdowns while averaging more than 16 yards per carry.
“Chaston’s a dynamic player," Patton said. "He’s definitely one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached. He’s been a leader on both sides of the ball for us. He doesn’t come off the field much and he’s been able to do that since he was a sophomore. He’s real spark plug for us.”
Bennett is the focal point in Rusk's triple-option attack, an offense that used to be the norm but has since been replaced by the spread or pro-style looks.
“For somebody who follows college football (our offense) is similar to Georgia Tech or Navy," Patton said. "I think it’s tough on defenses because they have to be extremely disciplined on their responsibilities. Even if they start disciplined, by the end they resort to some of their old habits and we try to take advantage of that.”
Rusk continues the season Friday night at Athens (1-2).