It would have been difficult to have envisioned a more difficult start than the one Oneida experienced against Rockwood at Jim May Stadium Friday night.
After Tiger receiver Jaiden Hannibal slipped a tackle to turn a third-and-long into a 66-yard touchdown on the third play of the game, Dom Moran turned an Oneida pass into a 66-yard pick-six, and Rockwood led 14-0 on two explosive plays.
The game was played evenly the rest of the way, but Rockwood used the big start to prevail, 24-13, in a game that will likely earn the Tigers a home playoff game in November.
“That’s what they can do to you,” Oneida coach Jimmy May said after the game. “They can big-play you. We didn’t make a tackle over there (on the game-opening touchdown catch), and we missed another one going down the sideline. If you don’t make the tackle on the edge, they’re basically to the goal line.”
Oneida struck back quickly before the first quarter had ended, with Rylin Duncan scoring on a 3-yard run, but could not get on the board again until the waning stages of the contest, when Caden Rector found his favorite target, McLorne Love, in the end zone on a 12-yard touchdown pass.
In between, Rockwood scored on a 34-yard field goal late in the first half, and added a 38-yard touchdown run by Dakota Waldo in the third quarter.
Rector completed 11 of 21 passes for 79 yards, while Duncan rushed for 92 yards on 13 carries. TJ Meredith added 53 yards on nine carries.
Rockwood’s backup quarterback, Xadrian Fickey, had a difficult night throwing the ball. After his first pass went for a 66-yard touchdown, he completed only two of 11 passes for 44 yards. But he didn’t need to complete many passes, as the Tigers rushed for 213 yards and averaged over six yards per carry. Waldo finished with 114 of those yards on just 12 carries. Gerald Hannibal added 60 yards on six attempts.
Both teams had chances. Oneida pushed the ball inside the Monterey 10-yard-line in the fourth quarter, but fumbled the ball at the 7-yard-line for what was the fourth turnover of the night.
But Rockwood had a penalty end a touchdown threat late in the first half before settling for a field goal, and had another scoring threat thwarted when Meredith stripped the ball and Landon Limburg recovered inside the red zone in the third quarter.
Turnovers and penalties have been a major burr under the saddle for Oneida this season, and were again against Rockwood. The Indians turned the ball over four times, and had eight penalties for 75 yards, with all of the penalties coming in the second half.
“We work on that (turnovers) all the time, but it seems like it’s our Achilles heel right now,” May said. “We were our own worst enemy tonight at certain times. We made some plays, but we kept getting penalties. We make a first down, and now all of a sudden it’s 1st and 25. Playing behind the chains is hard for us.”
Friday’s game likely had a home playoff berth riding on the line. The Indians still control their own destiny for a home playoff game, but will need to win out in order to secure that. If Oneida falls to Monterey on Oct. 15, the Indians will drop to third place in Region 2-2A and travel in the opening round of the playoffs, likely to Hampton.
“The season’s not lost. We just have to keep playing. We got beat tonight by a team that was better than us. I told the kids, it’s all about us and it’s about what we can do. We have to take care of what we can do. We just have to come out and get ready for Monterey and start there.” — May, referring to the Indians’ ability to create a three-way tie atop the region standings by defeating the Wildcats on Oct. 15.