ROCKWOOD, Tenn. | A blocked punt. A drive to the one-yard-line. A fumble. A 99-yard drive.
That was the sequence that changed Friday's Oneida-Rockwood game, as the Indians went from the cusp of taking the lead in the fourth quarter to struggling to keep up with a powerful Tiger rushing attack, as Rockwood escaped with a 42-24 win over the Indians in a surprisingly high-scoring affair.
Down 28-24 after battling back in the second half, Oneida blocked a Rockwood punt and pushed the ball to the Tigers' one-yard-line after a sequence of penalties. But a fumble gave the ball back to Rockwood, and the Tigers marched 99 yards behind their prolific rushing attack to score and effectively end the game.
The Indians finished the night with three turnovers, each of which led to a Rockwood touchdown.
The Tigers were able to amass 334 rushing yards against an Oneida defense that has been strong all season. Gerald Hannibal had 185 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
“They changed the line of scrimmage on us tonight,” Oneida coach Jimmy May said after the game. “They were driving us off the ball and making it hard on our linebackers, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Oneida's most effective offensive weapon continued to be its passing game. The Indians completed only 11 of 23 passes, but finished with 227 yards through the air. Caden Rector became the first Oneida quarterback in 20 years to pass for more than 200 yards in a single game earlier this season, and has now accomplished that feat three times. He also had three touchdown passes against Rockwood.
The Indians started the game with a fumble on their first play from scrimmage, which Rockwood turned into a Dakota Waldo touchdown.
That was the start of offensive fireworks in the first quarter. On the very next play, Rector hooked up with Jeric Huling for a 74-yard scoring strike to tie the game.
Rockwood quickly punched back, with Hannibal going 39 yards for a score, followed by Rector-to-Huling again, this time for 34 yards. The game was tied after the first quarter.
“We had some open receivers and we were hitting them,” May said. “I couldn't believe we had four touchdowns in what seemed like four minutes. The game was going back and forth.”
Rockwood regained the lead late in the second quarter, when Landon Watts connected with Waldo for a 34-yard strike. But the Indians were able to get into field goal range before the clock ran out, and Luke Barna connected from 40 yards out to cut the Tigers' lead to 21-17 at the intermission.
The second half saw Rockwood score early, on a 35-yard run by Hannibal, making it 28-17. But Oneida answered, scoring on a 10-yard pass from Rector to Colten Daugherty.
After that, Oneida had an opportunity to punch the ball in and regain the lead, but Rockwood recovered a fumble on the goal line and marched 99 yards for a score, with Hannibal doing the honors from 15 yards out. Hannibal would add a touchdown from three yards out before the game had ended.
“We just couldn't get off the field when we needed to in the second half, and we couldn't convert first downs in the second half,” May said. “But we had a shot. The kids played hard. We just have to go back to work.”
May said his team isn't giving up on its season, having already secured a playoff spot. It was at this point a year ago that the Indians made strides that eventually took them to the Class 2A quarterfinals.
“We played hard tonight,” May reiterated. “We have some things we have to fix, but we played. We didn't lay down.”