ROCK FALLS – Early on in Thursday night’s Big Northern Conference contest, Rock Falls was holding its own against Stillman Valley.
But after coming up empty on their second drive inside Cardinal territory in the first half, the Rockets couldn’t keep up. Stillman scored on its next seven possessions to pull away for a 49-7 victory at Hinders Field.
“Going into this game, we knew this was a very winnable game, and honestly, I think we can hang with these guys if we cut down on the mistakes,” Rock Falls junior quarterback Easton Canales said. “We were moving the chains and piecing drives together. We just couldn’t finish them off. If we can get a few more blocks and slip through those lanes, I think it’s a lot closer game than what the final score showed out there.”
The Cardinals (1-1) took control in the second quarter and never relented, turning a 7-0 first-quarter lead into a 35-0 margin at halftime.
After a fumble inside the Rock Falls 5-yard line on its opening possession, Stillman finished off touchdown drives with three straight scoring runs of 1 yard, then TD rushes of 6 and 7 yards in the final four minutes of the first half.
“We were real fired up. It was a real slow first quarter, but after that, we came out hard and we were moving the all a lot better than we were last week [in a 28-14 loss to Dixon],” Stillman senior fullback Braden Rogers said.
The Cardinals induced the running clock on their first drive of the second half, as Braden Engel connected with Kaenan McDavitt on a 47-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes after the break for a 42-0 lead. Another 1-yard TD run on the next drive made it 49-0 Stillman with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
“We really found our tempo this game,” Rogers said. “Last week, we were in between huddles and no-huddle, and just finding out tempo made it a lot easier to tire out the defense and keep punching it through the line.”
Rock Falls (0-2) finished the game with some momentum, scoring their its touchdown of the season early in the fourth quarter.
After a punt pinned the Cardinals at their own 3-yard line, they got a first down at the 17. But a false start pushed them back to the 12. Two plays later, a bad pitch went off a Stillman player’s helmet and was recovered by Rocket sophomore Logan Thome at the 16-yard line.
Canales paid off that turnover with a 16-yard touchdown run on the next play, cutting outside off a nice seal block on the right side of the line and sprinting through the Stillman secondary for a touchdown with 8:26 left in the game.
“In that position right there, we took advantage of our chance. We had a running back at guard, and he sealed the inside linebacker inside, and I just bounced it outside,” Canales said. “Him moving into that spot and showing that he could make a big block there, I think it shows that we’re ready to move on.”
“I think that’s a great sign,” Rock Falls coach Kevin Parker added. “Logan Thome is a sophomore making a play there at the end, and I believe the first fumble we recovered was caused by a sophomore that we threw in at defensive tackle that showed some life against Byron and really stepped up for us. I think that’s a good sign for our program that we’re seeing some of our younger guys that have committed and paid their dues doing good things.”
The Rockets moved the ball well early on, embarking on an eight-play drive to open the game and then a 10-play drive the third time they touched the ball. But the first series ended in an interception, and the third ended with a turnover on downs.
A fumble at the end of a 13-yard run halted the fourth drive after one play, then another turnover on downs near midfield on the next series allowed the Cardinals to seize the momentum.
“We definitely came out and were running our offense the way we’ve envisioned it. That was at least nice for our kids to get that feeling,” Parker said. “But Stillman Valley is going to come at you all the time. They’re not going to do anything wrong, they’re going to keep coming, and as soon as we make a mistake. They’re going to jump on top of it like they did. Then as soon as they see us getting back on our heels, blood was in the water and they go after us.”
Stillman drove 79 yards on its first possession after Braden Engel’s interception at the 18-yard line, but fumbled at the Rock Falls 3; Garret Wolf recovered for the Rockets.
But the Cardinals’ next drive covered 47 yards in five plays, aided by three offsides penalties on Rock Falls, then they went 72 yards in 10 plays for a 14-0 lead. Another short field after a fumble resulted in a third straight 1-yard TD run, then Stillman covered 46 yards in two and four plays on back-to-back drives for a 35-0 lead at halftime.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the linemen, because I can’t move the ball without the linemen and my halfbacks blocking in front of me,” Rogers said. “I can’t take a ton of the credit; I run the ball as fast and hard as I can, but a lot of the credit goes to all the blocks.”
Rogers finished with 115 yards and two touchdowns on the ground for Stillman, and Brock Needs added 58 yards and two scores. Henry Hildreth and Jaxon Barrett added touchdown runs, Michael Orlando finished with 38 yards rushing and 24 yards receiving, and Engel was 2 for 2 for 71 yards and a score through the air.
Canales had eight carries for 67 yards and the TD, and added 61 yards passing to lead Rock Falls. The Rockets hit the road next week to renew their rivalry against Dixon, and they’re ready to turn the page after an 0-2 start and get on track.
“Going into the Dukes – they beat Stillman Valley, but what I thought that first half tonight, we hung with Stillman for a while, then everything just snowballed on us in the second quarter,” Canales said. “We were gassed and tired, and they were just running the ball down our throats. If we put ourselves in better position early on, I think the scoreboard would’ve showed a lot better. I think we’re a good matchup for Dixon next week.”
“What our guys need to do is be able to fight back, and I think we fought back more than we did in the past, so there’s definitely some positive things that we saw tonight,” Parker said. “But we should not have lost this football game by such a wide margin; we should be better than that. I think the positive thing is that a lot of the things that can be fixed are inside ourselves. We have what we need to be successful at a certain level, but we have to handle the things that we can much better.”