Mendota fullback Jimmy Bruno plows his way into a pair of Rockford Christian defenders during a run on Sept. 6 at the MHS Athletic Complex. (Reporter photo)
MENDOTA – There's something about second halves against Rockford Christian that Mendota really likes.
Last year, a 29-point second-half outburst lifted the Trojans to their first win in the Brock Sondgeroth era. One year later, an incredible 38-point explosion over the final two quarters turned a halftime tie into a 52-21 Trojan rout on Sept. 6 at the MHS Athletic Complex.
The victory kept Mendota (2-0) unbeaten in the young season, while Rockford Christian dropped to 0-2.
The Trojans were able to exploit a porous Rockford Christian defense to the tune of 533 total yards, with 472 of those coming on a ground attack that benefited from huge holes opened up by the Mendota offensive line. Junior Wyatt Martinson was virtually unstoppable, accumulating 291 yards rushing on 26 carries. A large portion of Martinson's yardage came from the edge, while Mendota was also successful running up the middle with fullback Jimmy Bruno, who gained 99 yards on 15 attempts.
“I was really pleased with our offensive line,” said Coach Sondgeroth. “The guys fired off the ball really well and gave our backs ample space to run.
“This was a good win for us. It was a game, that when you looked at the schedule, was one we had to win. The schedule gets a whole lot tougher after this, so it was nice to get this one.”
But things weren't as rosy early in the contest as they turned out to be. Much like last year when Rockford Christian showed some spark by scoring the game's first 15 points, the Royal Lions played with inspiration early in this meeting. In fact, Rockford Christian held a seven-point lead late in the first half and had a good opportunity to add to its lead before intermission when the tide turned.
Trailing 14-7, the Trojans were ready to punt the ball back to Rockford Christian near midfield, but Mendota chose to try a fake punt and the Royal Lions were able to sniff it out and stop the Trojans short of the first down. Rockford Christian took over at the MHS 45-yard line with 4:46 left before halftime. Mendota's defense stiffened, but Rockford Christian unexplainably elected to go for it on fourth-and-five from the Trojan 45. However, the snap from center sailed over quarterback Nolan Gazouski's head and he had no choice but to fall on the ball at his own 47 with 3:18 left in the half.
It took the Trojans just two plays to turn that Royal Lion miscue into the tying score when Mikan Biers ran for 14 yards to the 33, and Martinson took it the rest of the way to the end zone at the 2:41 mark. Ryan Reeder's extra-point kick knotted the game at 14-all, and from that point on, it was all Mendota.
“We went in at halftime and told the kids we needed to quit making mental mistakes,” said Sondgeroth. “We dominated the line of scrimmage and it shouldn't have been 14-14 at half.”
Aside from a lost fumble early in the third quarter, the Trojans were not to be denied in the second half. When Bruno's 11-yard touchdown run broke the tie at the 2:01 mark of the third period, the Trojans proceeded to tally 38 points over the final 14 minutes of the contest. Reeder's extra-point kick was good.
On Rockford Christian's ensuing possession, Mendota's James Carroll swiped a Gazouski aerial at the Royal Lion 45, and two plays later, Martinson bolted 37 yards to the end zone, followed by a Reeder kick, to make it 28-14.
The implosion continued for Rockford Christian when Calvin Randall fumbled the kickoff and Biers smothered it at the 22. The third quarter ended, but the scoring parade continued for Mendota in the fourth. The Trojans parlayed Rockford Christian's fumble into a 2-yard TD run by Martinson 30 seconds into the fourth quarter. Reeder split the uprights on the extra point for a 35-14 lead.
On the Royal Lions' next offensive possession, they were forced to punt deep in their own territory, but the ball was snapped into the end zone and punter Brigham Weyrauch attempted to get rid of it, but his wobbly pass settled into the arms of Mendota's Will Engel in the end zone for a touchdown. Reeder nailed the extra point and it was 42-14 with 11:07 still to play in the game.
The Trojans got an impressive 47-yard field goal from Reeder at the 7:07 mark before Rockford Christian snapped Mendota's 38 unanswered point streak on a 3-yard TD pass from Gazouski to Caleb Bubnack with 4:19 left in the game.
Mendota added one more score on a 20-yard run by Shane Kruse with 3:14 to go, followed by a Reeder PAT kick. That came after a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Martinson was erased by a penalty.
The Trojan defense, which was picked on early, ended up allowing 237 total yards. Gazouski completed 14 passes for 233 of those yards, while the Royal Lion running game was non-existent.
Rockford Christian looked like it was going to be a formidable foe when a 63-yard TD strike from Gazouski to Kalab Polky got the scoring started less than two minutes into the game.
Mendota's first offensive series looked to be a good one when it drove from its own 8-yard line to the Rockford Christian 5, but a Jake Buchanan pass was intercepted by Polky in the end zone.
After a Royal Lion punt, the Trojans got on the board on a wingback option pass from Carroll to Reeder that covered 48 yards. Reeder connected on the extra-point kick to make it 7-7 late in the opening stanza.
Another Gazouski to Polky scoring hook-up, this one from 47 yards, enabled Rockford Christian to regain the lead at the start of the second quarter, but there was barely a whimper out of the Royal Lions the rest of the night.