Mendota's Wyatt Martinson looks to avoid a collision with Rock Falls' Alex Leaf (No. 3) during football action on Oct. 5 at the MHS Athletic Complex. (Reporter photo)
MENDOTA - Mendota and Rock Falls were playing a football game when suddenly a track meet broke out. Fortunately for Mendota, it was a race pitting sprinter against weight man.
Even though the weight man had a head start, the sprinter ran him down before he could cross the finish line, or as in this case, the goal line, to help preserve a 14-13 Trojan victory over the Rockets in Big Northern Conference West play on Oct. 5 at the MHS Athletic Complex.
The win was Mendota's first in four tries in the conference and its second overall in seven games. Rock Falls remained winless in the league at 0-5 and is 1-6 overall.
The scenario where the game turned into a track meet for a brief several seconds occurred when the Trojans had the ball with less than two minutes to play clinging to a one-point lead. Trying to gain yards and work on the clock at the same time, MHS coach Brock Sondgeroth called for a pitch play, but something went terribly awry. Sophomore James Carroll was the pitchman, but his pitch missed the mark of a teammate and wound up in the hands of Rock Falls linebacker Roman Luevano.
The 5-7, 215-pound Luevano suddenly became a running back as he took the ball and headed toward Mendota's goal line. He made it 58 yards, but it was 22 yards short of the goal line as Mendota's Jake Buchanan ran him down from behind. Then the Trojans were able to wrap up the win as Ryan Reeder intercepted a Jacob Mammosser pass in the right corner of the end zone with 44 seconds left in the game.
"I won't forget this game for a long time," said Sondgeroth. "That was a stupid call on my part to run a pitch play in that situation.
"Fortunately for us, Jake (Buchanan) ran the kid down and then Ryan (Reeder) made a nice play to get the interception in the end zone. I thought Ryan had great pass coverage the whole game and made a great play to help us get the win."
The Trojans were seemingly in control of things through almost three quarters of the game when they built a 14-0 lead, but Rock Falls scored two touchdowns within a five-minute span. The difference proved to be a missed extra-point by the Rockets after they climbed within a point early in the fourth quarter.
Rock Falls shocked everybody to start the game when it executed an onside kick that was recovered by the Rockets at their own 49-yard line. But the visitors were only able to advance 16 yards before the Trojans stopped them on fourth down.
After each team exchanged punts on their next possessions, Mendota started a drive on its own 33-yard line and was able to cover those 67 yards, capped off by a 9-yard touchdown run by Tanner Porter with 1:41 left in the opening stanza. Reeder's extra-point kick was wide right. The big play during the drive was a 16-yard pass over the middle from Buchanan to Austin O'Sadnick.
The second quarter was filled with punts, fumbles and interceptions as neither team could crack the scoring column, and the Trojans took a 6-0 lead to the locker room.
Rock Falls came out of the break and started with a bang when Austin Babcock ran back the opening kick 37 yards to the Trojan 47-yard line. The Rockets moved the ball to the Mendota 11 where they had a first and 10, but the Trojan defense thwarted the drive when Trae Blumhorst stepped in front of a Mammosser pass at the 4-yard line and returned it 52 yards.
That helped set up Mendota's next touchdown when Jimmy Bruno ran in from 6 yards out to finalize the 44-yard excursion. Porter was untouched on the two-point conversion run and the Trojans owned a 14-0 lead with 3:07 left in the third.
The Rockets were finally able to solve the Mendota defense when they got a 60-yard bolt to the end zone by Alex Leaf at the 1:58 mark of the third period. Dustin Huycke converted the extra-point kick to draw Rock Falls within a touchdown.
After Mendota's next offensive series resulted in a punt, Rock Falls took over at its own 35-yard line to start the fourth quarter and it was able to move the ball 65 yards, the final two coming on a touchdown run by Brendon Lebarron with 9:06 left in the game. But Huycke's kick attempt to tie the game veered way off to the right and the Trojans still held a one-point lead.
Rock Falls attempted another onside kick, but this time the Trojans recovered at the 49. Mendota punted it back to the Rockets, who then tried their own punt when they stalled on offense, but the center snap sailed over the head of the punter, who managed to get away a short kick.
The Trojans had excellent field position inside Rock Falls territory, but the errant pitch nearly resulted in disaster.
Mendota finished the game with 200 yards of offense. Wyatt Martinson rushed 23 times for 106 yards, while O'Sadnick caught three passes for 33 yards. Rock Falls had 235 total yards.