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NHIAA D-III Football Championship: Campbell's 1-2 punch

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 16. 2017 8:28PM
Campbell's Keegan Mills, left, and Ryan Yanuszweski. 

As the old adage goes, if something’s not broken, then don’t fix it.

That applied to the Campbell High of Litchfield football team’s running game coming into this season. The Cougars went 6-2 in 2016 behind the highly effective running by then-junior running back Ryan Yanuszweski, who posted a 1,000-yard campaign.

The expectation was Yanuszweski would be the feature runner here in 2017 but Campbell coach Greg Gush audibled, deciding to split carries between Yanuszweski and sophomore Keegan Mills. There was nothing that suggested the dual-back approach would succeed or backfire, but Gush admitted that he never thought it would lead the Cougars to a 10-0 record heading into Saturday’s Division III championship game against Monadnock of Swanzey at the University of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Stadium.

Yanuszweski and Mills have combined for 2,757 yards and 35 touchdowns this season. Mills (1,423 yards) has a 132-116 edge in carries over Yanuszweski, who has registered 1,334 yards while leading the duo in touchdowns at 19-16.

“In my heart of hearts, I would’ve felt good if we got 1,000 yards between the two of them,” Gush said. “The mark in the back of my mind was 500 yards for each, which would’ve been like having a 1,000-yard guy. It wouldn’t have helped them to feel good about themselves, but it would’ve done the job for our offense. I never thought we’d get 1,000 out of both.”

The decision to split carries was not meant to slight Yanuszweski’s body of work. Mills showed he could run a little while playing the role of blocking back for Yanuszweski last season. It wasn’t until the opening practices of this season that Mills opened Gush’s eyes.

“He showed up a lot bigger than he was as a freshman,” said Gush of Mills, who Gush estimated put on 20-25 pounds while sprouting up a few inches in the offseason. “He’s a physical runner and he was showing that early in practices. We were having a hard time tackling him and I think we’re a good tackling team.

“We thought we could use something like that. It’s nice too because it keeps them fresh as both guys play a lot of defense for us as well.”

Mills is a bruising runner who puts his head down and rumbles and grinds for every yard he can get. The sophomore is averaging 10.8 yards a carry with his hard-nosed style, which is the way he has always gone about his business.

“I’m not the fastest back there is out there,” said Mills, who also leads the team with 63 tackles as an inside linebacker. “I like to go north to south. Sometimes I won’t get as many yards, but I’ll try to keep going and punish the person. I’ve noticed after doing that that some kids just don’t try to tackle you.”

Yanuszweski is a vastly different kind of runner, which is likely why his partnership with Mills has been so effective. The senior is a more elusive runner than his younger counterpart, as Yanuszweski is slipping tackles and bursting through holes with his elite speed and agility.

“It definitely comes back to speed and vision,” Yanuszweski said. “I’ve always been taught to keep my head up, which is exactly what you need to do to go with the right cuts and know where the holes are.”

There has never been a qualm or complaint from either runner about their timeshare. Both Yanuszweski and Mills see not being out there for every play as more of a blessing than a burden, as the team doesn’t miss a beat when one or the other needs a breather.

“It’s been really cool to watch Keegan prove himself and he definitely deserves his spot (in the offense),” Yanuszweski said. “We’ve got a good mix going between our styles … and a lot of teams can’t really handle us.”

Yanuszweski is right that no team has solved Campbell’s running attack, but the Cougars also haven’t faced Saturday’s opponent this season. Monadnock has allowed just three points in the postseason and held Newport to negative yardage in the semifinals.

“We’re just going to grind them like we have everyone else this season,” Yanuszweski said. “We have so many different plays and weapons that they’re not going to be able to keep up with. It’ll definitely be a battle.”