The Rock Falls football team has only two weeks left of an emotional 2021 season, but the Rockets are playing with a renewed confidence heading into Friday’s Big Northern Conference game at Oregon.
After scoring just three touchdowns total in their five previous games, the Rockets (1-6) played a close game last week in a 31-22 loss to North Boone. It was the second-lowest margin of defeat for Rock Falls, behind only a 14-8 loss to Rockford Lutheran in Week 4, and it left the Rockets disappointed – but also a little more confident – because they felt like they were so close.
“We finally came out and, after a couple of weeks that had been a rough stretch, we came out and we battled with them. It’s one that kind of left a bitter taste after the end of the game,” acting co-head coach Alex Leaf said. “We looked at a couple of miscues, a couple of plays that would’ve been the difference-maker. We gave up that touchdown deep right before half, and that really hurt us.
“But going into it, we’re trying to build some confidence, trying to establish something for our younger guys that are getting a lot of reps at the varsity level this year, as far as building in more confidence moving forward for next year, too.”
Booker Cross has been a major bright spot for Rock Falls this season. The speedy, athletic running back scored all three touchdowns in that five-week stretch of losses, and has scored seven of the Rockets’ 12 touchdowns on the year. He has four scores on plays of 46 yards or longer, and added TD runs of 22 and 23 yards last week.
He’s definitely part of the defensive game plan for the Hawks on Friday night.
“I was hoping he graduated last year, since this will be the fourth time we’ve gone against him now,” Oregon coach Nick Schneiderman said with a chuckle. “They may line up in a multitude of formations, but we’ve got to keep an eye on Booker. He might be one of the best athletes in the conference, and he’s going to touch the ball a lot, so we have to keep him contained and not allow him to get into the open field. He’s just a hard guy to bring down, constantly fighting for extra yards, and we have to get guys to the ball and make tackles.”
The Hawks have a couple of tough backs to bring down themselves in Daniel Dominguez and Isaac Reber. The 1-2 punch can cause headaches for the opposition, but Schneiderman is just looking for some consistency from his team on both sides of the ball.
Oregon comes in off a 49-7 loss to BNC leader Byron, and has scored only 26 points in the five weeks since its 45-20 win over Rockford Christian in Week 2.
“We’ve got to be able to execute much better than we did last week. I think we went into that game a little intimidated and with not much confidence,” Schneiderman said. “We know what we want to do – we want to run the ball – and we understand that they may throw out a couple different defensive fronts. It’s Week 8, so we’ve pretty much seen everything, and now the question is can we adjust to a front that maybe we didn’t prepare for this week.
“I think we’ve got the kids ready to go, and they’re ready to bounce back from a not-so-good showing last week.”
The Rockets also believe they’ll be ready for anything come Friday night, after playing the top three teams in the league standings as well as the three teams tied for fifth.
“I would say we’re ready for this, after playing Byron and the other top teams in the conference,” lineman Blake LeFevre said. “We had a good chance with North Boone, and hopefully we have a chance with Oregon and take advantage of it.”
LeFevre mentioned the play up front as the main reason why the Rockets were in that North Boone game until the end, and believes it was an effort that they’re eager to build off of the next two weeks.
“We played really well against North Boone, and hopefully we play really well again,” he said. “We’ve had some good run blocking, and we’ve had some long touchdowns, we’re all pretty excited about those.
“The last game, we also played well as a team. We had really good blocking, and our defense has played with a little more power and had more oomph, and have put their foot down more as the year has gone on. I think we’ll be ready to play well again Friday.”
While the offense has had some success moving the ball this season, and has managed to break some long touchdown plays, it’s the defense that has been the squeakiest wheel for the Rockets. The 242 points they’ve allowed is second-mist in the BNC only behind winless Rockford Christian (384); Oregon has given up the third-most points with 235 allowed.
But with the feeling of finding a groove again on offense six weeks after a 50-0 season-opening win, Leaf believes a solid defensive effort will give Rock Falls a chance to pick up win No. 2 on Friday night.
“It’s been the same story for us all year long, getting the first initial contact but not making the play,” Leaf said. “We have a lot of times where yards after contact is what’s really hurt us this year, and Oregon likes to run off-tackle and establish the run. So we just need to be able to rally to the ball and take out the guy with the first hit and not let them get those extra yards.”