Watertown-Mayer football coach Craig Johnson likes to say that his team has a 24-hour rule. The players get 24 hours to celebrate big wins and 24 hours to mourn tough losses before they must put it all behind them and focus on the next game.
But after the Royals’ dominant, 52-20 season-opening win at Rockford last Thursday night, the team was apparently operating under something more like a 12-hour rule. Despite scoring the most points they’ve scored in more than a decade and winning their season-opener for the first time in five years, the Royals were back on the practice field Friday morning and coaches were busy reviewing tape to prepare for this week’s game against Jordan.
“We talked to them about not being complacent and striving to get better,” Johnson said, “because there are lots of areas to improve.”
Try telling that to Rockford. While the Rockets made the types of mistakes typical of a season-opener in every facet of the game, the Royals looked relatively crisp from the outset. Joe Reinert gave them a big early boost with a 56-yard touchdown run on the Royals’ first possession, and after Rockford answered back with an 89-yard touchdown run that initially appeared to be bottled up by the Royals, Reinert struck again. This time Reinert scored from 65 yards out to give his team a 12-7 lead that the Royals never relinquished.
“You get him in the secondary in a one-on-one situation, and the defense has no chance,” Johnson said of Reinert, who finished with 194 yards on 18 carries, and added a third touchdown — a 2-yarder — early in the fourth quarter. “He has great vision and can cut on a dime. That showed in this game. It was a great outing for him.”
Reinert’s big day was bolstered by a solid effort by the offensive line, one of the team’s biggest question marks entering the season. The team lost all five starters to graduation after last year, and though Johnson always believed he had capable players in this year’s bunch, the group was raw and unproven.
Until Thursday, that is. The line was a big part of why the team nearly had two 100-yard rushers, with Max Zitzloff adding 92 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and another touchdown through the air.
“I’m obviously pleased when we control the ball like we did,” said Johnson, whose team had 394 rushing yards. “(The offensive line) made some adjustments and worked well together. I told them after the game they blew some holes so wide open an old man like me could have gotten through.”
After Reinert’s second long run, Brendan Weege’s deep kickoff pinned the Rockets deep, and a defensive stand forced a three and out. Luke Sandquist, who had a solid all-around day on defense, blocked the punt, setting up a short field for the Royals. Quarterback Nick Tschida, who also drew praise from Johnson in his debut as the team’s starting quarterback, scored on a 1-yard sneak to give his team an 18-7 lead.
“I’m very proud of Nick Tschida,” Johnson said. “I told him you don’t have to win games for us, but you have to manage them. Make reads, stay patient and be the leader. He did that. He just did a great job.”
Another big defensive play – a fumble recovered by Jesse Bushman – set up another short field for the Royals, and they capitalized again on a 6-yard pass from Tschida to Mark Sandquist. Bushman connected on the extra point to give the Royals a 25-7 lead, and when Zitzloff added a 1-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes of the half, the Royals, who didn’t score more than 35 points in any game last season, suddenly led 32-7.
Johnson was frustrated that after that late score, his team let the Rockets march down the field and cut the lead to 32-14 before halftime. But Johnson was more than pleased with the way his team reacted to that score, coming out in the second half with a prolonged touchdown drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Zitzloff.
“I said that when we get the ball in the second half, we have to get a score and punch them in the mouth,” Johnson said. “Sure enough, we ate up about 7 minutes with a long drive and got a score. It just kind of broke their will a little. That was a big lesson learned in how to put teams away, take command and stay poised.”
Kurt Klitzke added a 35-yard run and Michael Wildung tacked on the extra point, and Reinert’s 2-yard run to open the fourth quarter gave the Royals a commanding 52-14 lead before Rockford tacked on a late touchdown. Klitzke finished with 36 yards on two carries and Jordan Berrios had 27 yards on three carries.
Defensively, the Royals held Rockford to 204 total yards, 89 of which came on one play early in the first quarter. Johnson said the cornerback spot was a question entering the season with two new starters in Jaelen Keavy and Brett Johnson, but both held up well. Johnson even finished with an interception, and was also second on the team with four tackles.
Bushman led the team with five tackles and a fumble recovery, while Sandquist had a sack to go with his blocked punt. David Gallus and Justin Lawrence also had sacks for the Royals.
“We held them to 200-some yards, 89 of those on one play in the first quarter,” Craig Johnson said. “Subtract that out and the rest of game was pretty solid defense. That will have to be a cornerstone for us. We’ll have to have stellar defensive efforts every night. We have some physical kids in there that have to be shutdown type kids.”
The Royals will have a chance to start 2-0 when they travel to take on a Jordan team that didn’t win a game last year. That game is set for 7 p.m. Friday.
It was the Royals’ 35-7 home win over the Hubmen that snapped Watertown-Mayer’s 21-game losing streak last year. Jordan lost 41-10 to St. Paul Highland Park in Week 1, but Johnson said his team can’t afford to take any opponent lightly.
“All I know is if we don’t play our own game the way we should, we’ll be in for a dogfight,” he said. “They’re coming off a season when they didn’t win a game, so I’m sure they’re looking for some confidence to take some positive steps.
Royals 12 20 7 13 52
Rockets 7 0 0 7 20
Passing: Nick Tschida 4-8-0-28, 2 TDS
Rushing: Joe Reinert 18-194, 3 TDS; Max Zitzloff 14-92, TD; Kurt Klitzke 2-36, TD; Jordan Berrios 3-27; Jesse Bushman 3-15; Logan Cooper 4-14; Nick Tschida 8-8; Aaron Sweeney 1-3; Ryne Alger 1-3; Mike Hetrick 1-2
Receiving: Mark Sandquist 3-22, TD; Max Zitzloff 1-6, TD
Tackles: Bushman 5, Zitzloff 5, Brett Johnson 4, Austin Torres 3, Tschida 2, Mark Sandquist 2, David Gallus 2, Zach Iten 2; Luke Sandquist 2, Jon Ernst 2, Nate Zellmann 1, Austin Hausladen 1, Nick Buns 1, Justin Lawrence 1, Jaelen Keavy 1, Hunter Hulley 1, Brian McDonald, 1
Sacks: Luke Sandquist, Gallus, Lawrence
Fumble Rec: Bushman