FARMINGTON — After Platt’s first scrimmage this preseason, Panthers head coach Jason Bruenn had a question for sophomore running back Roberto Salas.
“Why do you run like that?”
Salas offered a response that would make just about every coach happy.
“I just don’t see why I shouldn’t run 100 percent,” he told his coach.
With the loss of star senior running back E.J. Dudley to a torn ACL, the Panthers were going to need someone to step up and take control of their backfield.
In Thursday night’s 27-17 season-opening victory against Farmington, Salas did just that. The sophomore rumbled his way to 180 yards on the ground on 19 carries. He added a 19-yard touchdown and two-point conversion to his stat line.
“I knew what I had coming in [with Salas],” Bruenn said. “He’s a bull. He wants to hit people. That’s him. He’s going to bring it every time.”
Salas ripped off chunks of yards all night against the Indians defense, including a 21-yard run that set up his 19-yard TD to cap Platt’s first scoring drive of the season.
“I had no worries,” Salas said. “My line, they definitely held up; they were definitely there for me that whole time. I couldn’t have done it without them. E.J. Dudley is out, but we definitely can still step it up and do a great job this year.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing in this one for the sophomore. On his third carry, with Platt driving, Salas lost a fumble.
Instead of dwelling on it, Salas had a short memory.
“I just kept my head in the game,” he said. “Everybody on the sideline was keeping me on track. They were saying, ‘Let it go, let it go.’ We came back out, three plays later [I scored] a touchdown. Definitely felt good after that.”
After the fumble, was Bruenn still confident in his young back?
“Absolutely,” the coach replied. “I’m never going to be afraid to give him the ball. Then [Sean] Bell Jr. comes in and he gives you a different look.”
Bell offered a nice change of pace to Salas’ downhill running style. The junior totaled 35 yards on nine carries and scored one of Platt’s four touchdowns on the night.
Bruenn compared Salas and Bell to the old Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne “Thunder and Lightning” duo for the New York Giants.
While the duo of Salas and Bell was getting it done of the ground, it was Jake Baker who really jumpstarted the Panthers in this one.
The senior wide-out took the second-half kickoff to the house, turning a 7-6 halftime deficit into a 14-7 advantage and sparking a run of 21 straight Panther points.
“That kind of a play epitomizes what we can do,” Bruenn said of Baker’s kick return. “We’re an explosive-type team, at times. We’re not going to run up the score to 50 points and do it in a quick time, but we’re going to hit those big plays.”
Baker and Tremayne Carter made big plays at receiver all night. Carter made a 40-plus-yards grab to get the Panthers to the 19-yard line right before the Salas touchdown run and made another 30-yard grab to set up quarterback Lorenzo Sanson’s touchdown run.
Baker caught just two passes on a night where Platt threw just eight times, but his second reception was a 36-yarder that set up the Bell touchdown.
“We’re going to hit those long balls to Tre [Carter] and Baker and, in between that, we’re going to pound the ball,” Bruenn said.
For a younger team coming off a 4-6 season, Platt looked extremely comfortable despite trailing at halftime. While Bruenn said that the defensive effort in the first half wasn’t what he wanted, he did like the improvements made in the second half.
“I know they were coached to defend those plays,” Bruenn said. “They chose not to in the first half. In the second half, they started doing what they were supposed to do.”
Platt will look to remain undefeated and keep the magic of its “Thunder and Lightning” duo going next Friday at home at Falcon Field against Bridgeport Central.
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