RICHMOND — After Richmond-Burton quarterback Joe Miller was picked off in the final minute of the first half, the Rockets could have resumed their typical pounding rushing attack and played it safe.
They did just the opposite.
R-B coach Mike Noll called for Miller to air it out against Normal West, which led to 21 second-half points and a thrilling comeback victory, 33-26, Saturday in their nonconference game.
“We wanted to come out and hit them hard with play action passes in the third quarter,” Noll said. “And send a strong message that we weren’t gonna let that mistake keep us from throwing the football.”
That plan worked.
Miller, who was 12 of 14 passing in R-B’s first three blowout vicories, finished 11 of 16 for 131 yards and three touchdowns. R-B, 4-0 and ranked No. 4 in The Associated Press Class 4A poll, has now won 36 of its last 37 games.
West, 3-1 and ranked No. 9 in Class 6A, had not allowed an offensive point coming into the game. The Wildcats’ intentionally took two safeties in their 21-4 win over Normal Community last week.
“After I threw that pick, it seemed like my entire team came up to me and supported me in the locker room at halftime,” Miller said. “It meant a lot to me knowing they had my back, because it was a momentum-changing play that gave them the lead.”
Two of Miller’s TD strikes were to receiver Zach Smith (five receptions, 45 yards), including one four minutes into the third that gave the Rockets the lead for good, at 20-19.
Five minutes later, Miller found Jack Martens on a short swing pass. Martens burst through multiple defenders on the left side of the field for a 28-yard touchdown a 26-19 lead.
As strong as they were through the air, R-B went back to its bread-and-butter late.
A week after scoring seven touchdowns, R-B fullback Steven Siegel (29 carries, 150 yards) added a 10-yard scoring run 1 minute into the fourth quarter to make it 33-19.
The Rockets wound up needing that score as West scored on quarterback Tanner Cupples’ 1-yard run with 2:26 remaining, making it 33-26.
The Rockets picked up a pair of rushing first downs on their ensuing possession, after recovering an onside kick, to seal the deal.
R-B took the game with West, a school with 1,000 more students, when Sandwich canceled its season for a lack of numbers.
“This is the type of win that really builds character,” Noll said. “Our guys showed tremendous guts and resilience when faced with adversity all day today.”
Cupples was an injury replacement for the Wildcats and started his first varsity game, finishing for 11 for 18 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for a pair of scores.
Gavin Camp led the Wildcats with seven catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns, and made sure R-B’s defensive backs had their hands full.
Wildcats coach Nathan Fincham was glad they accepted R-B’s invitation to fill the Week 4 date on the schedule.
“We could’ve used the long bus ride from downstate as an excuse. Or having a new QB,” Fincham said. “Instead, we responded and came up just short against a heck of a football team.
“This was a loss, but the type of loss that will serve us well later in the season. It’s also the first time we saw a Wing-T offense. Our other games were against spread offenses.”