MENDOTA - Entering Saturday’s Three Rivers Conference crossover, it had been exactly a year since Mendota won a football game.
The Trojans ended that drought, executing in all phases of the game in a 35-14 victory over Riverdale.
“It always feels great to get a win, but especially when we’re in a place like we are right now,” Mendota sophomore Aden Tillman said. “We’re a really young team. It’s just really good to get a win to get some good feelings around here and build momentum.”
Mendota’s last win was a 49-35 victory over Sherrard on Sept. 30, 2022 in Sherrard. The Trojans’ last home win was a 60-0 rout of Sherrard on Oct. 1, 2021.
“It brought back a lot of memories from last year,” Mendota senior Justin Randolph said about Saturday’s win. “It’s really good for everyone coming up who’s younger. I really enjoyed playing today. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a while.”
“It always feels great to get a win, but especially when we’re in a place like we are right now. We’re a really young team. It’s just really good to get a win to get some good feelings around here and build momentum.”— Aden Tillman, Mendota sophomore
After showing improvement the last two weeks - a 34-7 loss to Hall and a 35-14 loss to Bureau Valley - after three running clock losses to start the season, the Trojans broke through Saturday as they racked up 347 offensive yards (222 rushing, 125 passing), forced two turnovers, held the Rams to 255 yards and had several strong kickoffs and punts to pin Riverdale deep in its own territory.
“It’s satisfying for the kids to get a tangible feeling as opposed to just listening to coaches saying ‘You’re doing what you’re supposed to do,’” Mendota coach Keegan Hill said. “They can see it on the scoreboard. They’re making a lot of winning choices and now we got to be winners on the scoreboard today.
“Our ball security was excellent. Our special teams were excellent. We didn’t give up the big play on defense. They were able to move the ball on us, but we didn’t give up the big ones, which had really hurt us other weeks.”
After the teams played a scoreless first quarter, the Trojans took control with two touchdowns in 20 seconds early in the second quarter.
The Trojans capped a 62-yard, seven-play drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Randolph to Gavin Evans.
Mendota kicker Angil Serrano then pinned the Rams on their own 7.
On Riverdale’s first play, the Rams snapped it over the head of quarterback Kolton Kruse and Tillman pounced on it in the end zone to help Mendota take a 13-0 lead with 9:53 left in the first half.
“That’s really momentum building, diving for loose balls and making those hustle plays,” Tillman said.
Mendota led 13-0 at halftime then scored on its first two drives of the third quarter to extend the lead to 28-0.
The Trojans turned to the ground game on their first drive of the second half, running on 13 of 14 plays to drive 64 yards with Randolph breaking loose for a 27-yard TD run.
After Gilbert Dean recovered a fumble on Riverdale’s ensuring possession, the Trojans turned to trickery to score on their first play.
Tillman lined up at quarterback, took the snap and threw a backwards pass to Randolph near the right sideline. Randolph then threw back to Tillman for a 36-yard TD.
“We practiced that all week,” Randolph said. “I didn’t know if we were going to run it, but it was looking really good in practice. We went in at halftime and coach Hill said, ‘I think we’re going to run it.’ They just weren’t ready for it.
“I was a little nervous (when he called the play). I was just hoping we could pull it off and we did.”
The teams traded TDs the rest of the way with the Rams scoring on a 5-yard run by Kruse and a 7-yard run by Gaege Heinsen with a 3-yard TD run by Randolph in between.
Randolph completed 9-of-16 passes for 125 yards and two TDs while running for 91 yards and two scores on 15 carries.