Mendota's Tanner Porter surveys the field for running room on Sept. 28 at Rockford. (Reporter photo)
ROCKFORD - The potency of the offenses Mendota has encountered so far in its inaugural season in the Big Northern Conference has been impressive to say the least. Just when you thought they couldn't get more powerful and diversified, along comes Rockford Lutheran.
The Crusaders possess enough firepower to make a small army proud, and all of it was on full display against the Trojans as they scored early and often en route to a 56-13 triumph in BNC-West Division play on Sept. 28 at Rockford.
The loss dropped Mendota to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the league, while Lutheran improved to 6-0 and 4-0, and assured its first trip to the playoffs in 10 years. For the Trojans, they will miss the playoffs for the first time in the last six seasons.
From the pinpoint passing of Jake Milbourn to the precision running of standout freshman running back James Robinson to the rushing and receiving prowess of Tarence Roby, the Crusaders are as close to a complete team on offense as it gets. And from the opening seconds of the game, it was easy to see how Lutheran was averaging 52 points a contest coming into its match-up with Mendota.
"We knew it would be a tall task to stop them, and they looked in real life like they did on film," said Trojan coach Brock Sondgeroth. "Their quarterback is a four-year starter and then you have to try to stop Robinson, who is just a freshman. They definitely have a lot of weapons."
Lutheran finished the game with a staggering 583 yards of offense. Robinson added to his already improbable rushing total of over 750 yards on the season with 178 yards on 14 carries and three TDs against the Trojans. Meanwhile, Milbourn threw for 248 yards on 14 of 21 passing, while Roby ran for 67 yards and caught three passes for 82 yards. He had two rushing touchdowns and one receiving TD. Milbourn also ran for a pair of touchdowns.
"The way that team has improved is now they have the added ability to run the football to go along with the passing of their quarterback," said Sondgeroth. "Robinson is very athletic and a tough runner to bring down."
Incredibly, Lutheran needed just 48 seconds to score its first touchdown of the night. The Crusaders' opening drive started at their own 47-yard line and ended when Milbourn hooked up with Roby on a 35-yard TD strike at the 11:12 mark. Adam Pearson kicked the extra point.
However, Mendota's offense struck back quickly after Mikan Biers took the opening kickoff 61 yards down to the Lutheran 28-yard line. On the Trojans' first play from scrimmage, Wyatt Martinson raced 28 yards to the end zone and Ryan Reeder kicked the extra point to tie the score.
"We thought we could get something to the outside on the kickoff and Mikan made a nice run to set up our first score," noted Sondgeroth.
But the tie lasted exactly one minute, 57 seconds, as Lutheran roared back with a six-play, 74-yard drive capped off by a 4-yard touchdown run by Milbourn and an extra-point kick by Pearson.
The Crusaders tacked on another 4-yard TD scamper by Milbourn before the end of the first quarter. The PAT kick was no good.
The first quarter ended when the Trojans went for it on a fourth-and-one from their own 45-yard line, but they were stopped for no gain and Lutheran took over. Six plays later, the Crusaders were in the end zone again on a 17-yard run by Roby with 10:09 to play in the half. Milbourn's two-point conversion run made it 28-7.
Mendota used a little razzle-dazzle to score its second touchdown of the game when James Carroll took a pitch from quarterback Jake Buchanan and then threw a halfback option pass to a wide open Trae Blumhorst streaking down the middle of the field. Eighty yards later, Blumhorst was in the end zone. Mendota went for two on the conversion but was stopped short.
Lutheran was able to score two more times before halftime intermission. Robinson thought he had tallied on a 55-yard run, but a holding penalty nullified the score. However, one play later, Robinson sprinted to paydirt from 47 yards out, and this time there were no flags. Pearson's kick was good.
The Trojans punted on their next possession and Lutheran went on a 61-yard scoring drive that ended on a 4-yard run by Robinson with 2:26 left in the half. Pearson's kick sailed through the uprights and it was 42-13.
After another Mendota punt, the Crusaders had one last chance to tack on more points before the half when they advanced the ball to Mendota's 15-yard line, but a dropped pass on fourth down resulted in Lutheran's only offensive possession of the first two quarters that it didn't get into the end zone.
Lutheran added third-quarter touchdown runs of 19 yards by Roby and 4 yards by Robinson, each followed by Pearson kicks. The latter score made it at least a 40-point difference between the teams and resulted a running clock the remainder of the game.
The Trojans finished the game with 216 total yards, with Martinson gaining 48 yards rushing on 13 attempts. The 80-yard bomb from Carroll to Blumhorst helped Mendota to 104 yards passing in the contest.