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Rockets out to tame Tigers

Identity crisis

Rock Falls' Dustin Huycke (11) and company will try to even their mark at 2-2 Friday when they visit 0-3 Byron.
Rock Falls' Dustin Huycke (11) and company will try to even their mark at 2-2 Friday when they visit 0-3 Byron.

Moments before the Rock Falls football team huddled up on its practice field Wednesday, Daegan Wharff booted a booming, wobbling beauty.

Nose over nose, the ball somersaulted 50 yards, just far enough to land on the crossbar and fall over.

“Dustin, you might’ve just lost your job,” Rock Falls coach Scott Berge said.

“Yeah, we’ll see what happens in the game,” Dustin Huycke responded.

By that token, Huycke’s job is safe. He went 4-for-4 on extra points and kicked a 23-yard field goal against Rockford Lutheran on Friday night.

And, although Wharff dropped a pinpoint pass from Jacob Mammosser moments after breaking the huddle Wednesday, his offensive job is safe, too, considering his 10 receptions for 105 yards, including two touchdowns, Friday in Rockford.

But Berge gladly addressed a different identity crisis: that of his defense. About 15 minutes before Wharff’s kicking audition, Berge walked toward the practice field and talked about how badly he wants a signature performance Friday in Byron, especially after giving up 66 points to Lutheran on 668 yards, and 135 points in three games thus far.

“I want our guys to come out and show people who they are on defense,” Berge said. “After all, everyone knows what our offense is, what we’re capable of.”

The Rockets' offense racked up 583 yards and 37 first downs, resulting in 45 points in the loss to Lutheran.

Austin Donoho also caught two TD passes, part of a 16-catch, 169-yard night.

“But if I would’ve caught no balls but we would’ve ended up with a ‘W,’ that would’ve been great,” Donoho said.

Donoho also plays safety for the Rockets and was impressively never given an oxygen mask while the teams racked up 1,251 total yards of offense.

“Every time we scored, I went up to him and said, ‘Do you need a break?’ ‘No, coach, I’m good,’” Berge said. “He wants to be on the field, and having him on the field is a great asset for us.”

Lutheran’s prized asset, James Robinson, had 393 total yards of offense Friday night.

“He’s one of the best running backs in the state, but after you play him, you start facing the other competition and think things might get a little bit easier,” Donoho said.

Call Berge crazy, but he’d like his defense to feel a quick glimpse of mortality Friday in Byron, seeing as how the Tigers have been outscored 93-28 thus far.

“I don't want our guys feeling too confident," Berge said. "In a weird way, I’m kind of hoping they come out and score right away, so we get settled back in and understand just because it’s not Mr. Robinson doesn’t mean that it’s a different ball game. We’ve still gotta do what we’ve gotta do.”

And that means stopping the misdirection the Tigers generate from their Wing-T formation. They’ve got three running backs who “like to lose our eyes in the backfield,” as Donoho puts it.

Four Tigers have at least 25 lugs so far (Austin Carlson 38-226, Base Byers 27-118, Dylan Garbutt 25-113, Tyler Huddleston 33-111). Byers, the Tigers’ quarterback, likes to get to the outside, when possible.

Donoho is hoping to be there when he does, and help his defensive unit post that elusive signature performance.

“I think we’ve all heard it from around the town and around the community that we can't play defense, but in the locker room, it’s a different story,” Donoho said. “We know Byron can put up points.”

The Tigers hung 57 on the board at Hinders Field last season in a 57-43 victory.

“We need to approach them like any other team in this conference," Donoho said. “We’re getting into the meat of the schedule, and if we can get the key win in Byron and even the record, we can keep it rolling from there.”

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