CANTON — When teams do everything in their power to take all-state wide receiver Tyson Struber out of the game, the Canton-Galva offense has other weapons to turn to.
Friday night in an anticipated matchup between state-ranked teams, the Eagles turned to senior running back Brayden Collins to lead the way.
Collins rushed for two touchdowns and caught another as Canton-Galva dismantled Little River 56-38. The Eagles rode Collins for 95 yards and 16 carries.
The defending state champions are now off to a 5-0 start, and are tied with Andale for the state’s longest win streak at 18 games.
"We knew they were going to try and take away Tyson, and I would too if I was playing against Struber," Canton-Galva coach Shelby Hoppes said. "We told Collins all week he’d have to run it like a man. Tonight, I thought he ran it as hard as he’s ever ran it in a Canton-Galva jersey. If we can get that Brayden Collins every game, we’re going to be a tough out."
Little River, now 3-2, did a respectable job taking away Struber, especially in the first half. Little River’s Jayden Garrison, one of the top players in 8-Man in his own right, was responsible for guarding Struber.
Although Struber finished with four catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns, Little River coach Kevin Ayers thought Garrison did an excellent job.
"Jayden played well. We switched up some coverages and really had some things going," Ayers said. "We knew they were going to score some points - they are going to score some points."
On offense, the duo of Garrison and Graham Stephens put up numbers, but were constantly swarmed by Canton-Galva defenders. Garrison finished with 177 rushing yards on 25 attempts and a touchdown, while Stephens ran the ball 24 times for 97 yards and three touchdowns.
But by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the physical toll the Canton-Galva defense had inflected on the two standouts was evident.
"We take pride in how physical we play, and I don’t care who you are if you get hit play after play after play, that’s not the most enjoyable thing in the world," Hoppes said. "[Garrison] is a great player, and in the blink of an eye he’s gone for 60. So I was very proud of our defense and our special teams for making open-field tackles."
Canton-Galva scored on the first play of the game when sophomore quarterback Garrett Maltbie motioned Struber across the field, faked the handoff to him, then ran 65 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
Little River answered back with a one-yard touchdown from Stephens 1:41 after Maltbie’s score.
"I’m so proud of my kids for how they came back and kept swinging," Ayers said.
Maltbie connected with Collins for a 54-yard touchdown midway through the first. Garrison scored from four yards out early in the second, but Collins rushed for a 28-yard touchdown on Canton-Galva’s next possession.
With 2:09 left in the half, Stephens broke free from 47 yards out to make it a 24-18 game. Two-point conversions were huge in this game, as Canton-Galva went 3 for 3 in the first half and Little River went 0 for 3.
Maltbie rushed for a 10-yard touchdown to begin the scoring in the second half, but Little River responded with a two-yard touchdown from Stephens to make it an eight-point game.
That was as close as Little River would get the rest of the way. Maltbie connected with Struber from 43 yards out, then Collins rushed for a three-yard touchdown to make it 48-24 heading into the fourth.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Maltbie lofted a touchdown to Struber from 19 yards out to further extend the lead.
Little River’s Braden Young would score two touchdowns in the final 2:04 of the game, but it wasn’t enough to make the game competitive.
"We felt really good going into halftime," Ayers said. "We came out, the wind was blowing, we got behind the chains early, and they got the momentum going; that’s the game of football."
Friday’s game will go a long way in determining a winner in 8-Man Division I District 4. The Eagles are at Herington (2-3) next Friday, while Little River hosts Bennington (1-3).