It took Watertown-Mayer a bit longer to put Rockford away than many people might have expected Saturday afternoon after a disastrous start for the Rockets, but the second-seeded Royals eventually pulled away from the sixth-seeded Rockets in the fourth quarter of a 35-14 win.
Watertown-Mayer’s victory over Rockford in the second-round of the Section 2AAA playoffs set up a section final this Friday night that will pit two of the state’s top-three ranked teams in Class AAA against each other. Second-ranked and top-seeded Glencoe-Silver Lake will host third-ranked and second-seeded Watertown-Mayer at 7 p.m. with a state tournament berth on the line.
Watertown-Mayer’s win over Rockford was its second of the season over the Rockets — the Royals also won 17-7 on opening night – but Rockford put quite a scare into the Royals this time. Despite being the lowest-seeded team in the section, Rockford trailed by just six, 20-14, and even had the ball to start the fourth quarter.
“I’m obviously pleased with the win; pleased with way we came out and with the way we finished,” Watertown-Mayer coach Craig Johnson said. “Those two quarters in between I thought were less than we are capable of. But the kids came ready to play and finished really strong.”
After a sluggish second and third quarter allowed the Rockets to hang around, a four-play, 55-yard drive for the Royals ended in an 18-yard touchdown run for quarterback Brett Johnson with 9:16 left in the game, giving the Royals a more comfortable 28-14 lead. And on the Rockets’ very next play, a fumbled pitch was recovered by the Royals, setting up a nine-play, 39-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Logan Cooper that suddenly gave the Royals a 35-14 lead with just 4:36 left.
“I think it’s been a year-long theme that kids have worked well together as teammates,” Johnson said. “They work well together and pick each other up. There is never any negativity or dissention. They just keep plugging away. Even when things aren’t going right, they keep sticking together and working hard and eventually good things happen.”
Rockford did an outstanding job of recovering from what could have been a devastating start. They fumbled the opening kickoff at their own 10-yard line, but a Royals fumble on their very first play gave it right back to Rockford at their own 3-yard-line. However, a three-and-out and a short punt set up the Royals with a short field, and Cooper’s 6-yard touchdown run, his first of three total scores on the day, gave Watertown-Mayer a 6-0 lead less than 4 minutes into the game.
Rockford lost yardage again on its next brief possession, before another short punt gave the ball to the Royals at the Rockford 34. This time, Cooper’s 3-yard touchdown run gave the Royals a 13-0 lead, and had many in attendance, given the Rockets’ early futility, thinking rout.
But Rockford righted the ship in a big way. The Rockets got on the board with 10:33 left in the second quarter when a 27-yard touchdown pass from Brock Deering to Brody Harstad capped an 88-yard drive and cut the Royals’ lead to 13-6.
After getting the ball back again before halftime, Rockford mounted another impressive drive, moving from their own 30 to the Royals 21 before eventually turning the ball over on downs. A sack by Jack Nolan, his first of three in the game, this one coming on third-and-eight, ultimately is what helped stall the Rockford drive that could have given them the lead before halftime.
As a team, the Royals finished with eight sacks, with several of them coming at crucial moments.
“That was one of the key elements of game,” Johnson said of his team’s pass rush. “Brock Deering is very good quarterback. He moves well in and out of the pocket, he’s very patient, and he delivers the ball well. To get him in some threatening situations where we got to him a couple times helped us in long run. I thought Jack Nolan had the best game of his high school career. Hopefully there’s even bigger things to come for him.”
Rockford shot itself in the foot in the second half, when a poor snap on a punt rolled past the punter and was downed at the 2-yard-line. Johnson scored on the next play for the Royals, giving them a 20-6 lead with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
Still, Rockford didn’t quit. The Rockets regrouped to mount an eight-play, 52-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 15 yard pass from Deering to Harstad, which, along with a successful two-point conversion, cut the Royals lead to 20-14 with 2:12 left in the third quarter. However, the fourth quarter almost entirely belonged to the Royals.
Brett Johnson finished with a team-high 72 yards on 17 carries on the ground, scoring two touchdowns. Cooper had 72 yards on 12 carries, and scored two touchdowns on the ground and one through the air. Jesse Bushman also had nine carries for 67 yards. Hulley led the team with five catches for 74 yards, while Johnson was 8-for-16 passing for 115 yards with a touchdown.
Now, the Royals have turned their attention to a Glencoe-Silver Lake team known as a perennial power in Class AAA.
“We’re really excited for this challenge,” Johnson said. “We look at it as Watertown-Mayer has been up-and-coming the last few years, and Glencoe has a long standing tradition. Our kids expect to go there and expect to win.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]
Royals 35, Rockford 14
R 0 6 8 0 14
WM 13 7 0 15 35
WM – Logan Cooper 6 run (kick failed)
WM – Cooper 3 run (Jesse Bushman kick)
R – Brody Harstad 27 pass from Brock Deering (pass failed)
WM – Brett Johnson 2 run (Bushman kick)
R – Harstad 15 pass from Deering (Tommy Reinking pass from Deering)
WM – Johnson 18 run (Luke Sandquist pass from Johnson)
WM – Cooper 7 pass from Johnson (Bushman kick)
Passing: Brett Johnson 7-10-0-46, TD
Rushing: Johnson 18-71, 2TD; Logan Cooper 11-56, 2 TD; Jesse Bushman 7-37; Jordan Berrios 3-5; Cole Durand 2-4; Nick Parker 3-1
Receiving: Hunter Hulley 3-25; Jack Nolan 1-20; Cooper 2-1, TD; Bushman 1-0
Tackles: Andrew Ziegenhagen 10, Ryne Alger 8, Aaron Sweeney 7, Bushman 6, Trae Berhow 6, Hulley 5, Nolan 5, Nate Zellmann 4, Cooper 3, Hunter Durand 2, Luke Sandquist 2, Bill Stauffer 2, Nick Parker, Bryce Duske, Johnson, Tyler Nelson, Cody Wagner, Brian McDonald, Berrios
Sacks: Nolan 3, Hulley 2, Luke Sandquist, Josh Campbell, Cody Wagner
FR: Berrios, Nolan
Confusion regarding the last conference title for the Watertown-Mayer football program led to incorrect information in last week’s paper. The last conference title for the Royals did in fact belong to the 1986 state championship team.