ROCK FALLS – All week long, the Rock Falls Rockets had preached belief in themselves, belief in each other, and belief in finishing strong.
That belief was rewarded Friday night at Hinders Field. The Rockets scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, the second with 1:27 to play, to win their second game of the season by beating Burlington Central 29-21 in a Big Northern crossover contest.
“We wanted to have some pride, some dignity in our final game at home this year,” senior Austin Babcock said. “None of us wanted to let the guy next to us down, and we pushed through everything to get that ‘W’ tonight.”
The win was cemented by what may be the defining drive of the season for Rock Falls (2-6). Recovering a Burlington Central onside kick with 6:33 to play, Rock Falls marched 53 yards in 15 plays, converting a third-and-5, a pair of fourth-and-1s, and a final fourth-and-12 when Babcock caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacob Mammosser. The drive chewed up 5:06 off the clock and gave Rock Falls a 29-21 lead with a minute and a half left to play.
“That drive summed up the season for us,” said Babcock, who had 113 yards receiving and a key fourth-quarter interception. “Our defense kept us in the game by getting some stops, and we used that momentum to make the plays we needed on offense.”
Alex Leaf (15 rushing yards TD, 91 receiving yards) converted the two fourth-and-1s, one on the ground and one through the air. He also ran for the 1-yard score that capped a short drive after Babcock’s interception and gave Rock Falls a 22-15 lead with 8:59 to play.
Burlington Central (5-3) answered with a 19-yard TD pass from Casey Matthews to Joe Breeden, but the snap on the PAT kick was high and Rock Falls maintained a 22-21 lead.
It was the big play that lifted Rock Falls all game long. Mammosser completed 21 of his 31 passes for 344 yards and two TDs, hitting four different receivers, and the defense came up with two fumble recoveries and three interceptions. The final pick by Austin Donoho came with 40 seconds to play to seal the win and kick off the Homecoming celebration.
“We did what we had to do tonight to finally finish off a win,” Leaf said. “We’ve had so many close calls this year, and it’s a big relief to get over the hump.
“Burlington put it to us last year, and that was big motivation for us to get this thing done tonight for the seniors, the coaches, the students, everybody who came out to support us tonight.”
Rock Falls took the lead right off the bat, as Steven Armoska (57 yards receiving, TD) returned the opening squib kickoff to the Burlington Central 24. Four plays later, Brendon LeBarron rumbled in from 2 yards out for a 7-0 lead.
Burlington Central answered, covering 54 yards in 13 plays, capped by a 4-yard TD run by Trevor Davison. The teams then traded fumbles, and Rock Falls capitalized with a 15-yard scoring pass from Mammosser to Armoska for a 15-7 lead late in the first quarter.
After throwing an interception on its first drive of the second quarter, Burlington Central drove to the Rock Falls 1-yard line before fumbling the snap; Rock Falls recovered and got all the way to the BC 5-yard line before Dustin Huycke’s 22-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left to end the first half.
Burlington Central scored on the opening possession of the second half to tie it at 15, then stuffed Rock Falls on four straight plays inside the 2-yard line to preserve the tie. Mammosser threw his lone interception on the next series, then Babcock’s interception set up the final, memorable 10:21 for Rock Falls.
Rock Falls 29, Burlington Central 21
Star of the game: Jacob Mammosser, RF, 21-for-31 passing, 344 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Key performers: Austin Babcock, RF, 113 receiving yards, TD, INT; Alex Leaf, RF, 83 receiving yards, rushing TD; Reilly Marino & Trevor Davison, BC, each had 70 rushing yards and a TD
Up next: Rock Falls at Oregon, 7 p.m. Friday