BYRON – In just a shade over a minute, Rock Falls’ stalemate with Byron became an uphill battle for the Rockets.
Two Tigers touchdowns in the last 68 seconds of the first half – coupled with Rock Falls turnovers in the second half – spelled a 56-43 Big Northern West victory for Byron.
On fourth-and-5 with 1:51 left in the first half, Rock Falls tied the score at 21 on a 49-yard strike from Jake Mammosser to Connor Cain, the QB tattooing his slot receiver, then watching him tear away from the secondary.
But the grind-it-out Tigers showed some quick-strike ability on a three-play scoring drive, quarterback Base Byers starting it with a 10-yard scamper from his team’s 47. He capped it with a 32-yard option run down the left sideline with 1:08 left.
But facing fourth-and-4 at its own 22, Rock Falls (1-3, 0-2) was bent on going for it, if not for two procedural penalties. On fourth-and-14 from the 12, the Rockets called a timeout, only to see their punt blocked and corralled in the end zone by the Tigers’ Griffin Thatcher after bouncing off several hands.
Just like that, it was 35-21. But Dustin Huycke, who had a 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown that tied the game at 14 late in the first, said his Rockets weren’t fazed, exactly.
“We always thought that we were going to win the game – not in a cocky way – but we came into the game with a lot of confidence,” Huycke said. “As the game went on, and they were ahead, we always had it in the back of our head to keep pushing.”
But Josh Larson, whom Mammosser picked on repeatedly on the first possession, including a 13-yard fade that 6-foot-6 receiver Daegan Wharff stole from the 5-7 back, got his revenge.
He picked Mammosser on the opening drive of the second half, setting up a 10-play, 74-yard drive capped by Austin Carlson’s third 1-yard touchdown plunge, making it 42-21 with 6:22 left in the third.
“At the beginning, they just kept pounding it at me, but when I got that first pick, I got the team pumped up and we got on a roll,” Larson said. “After we started scoring points, we just got on the train track and kept rolling on.”
Mammosser (22-for-30, 226 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INT) hit Cain for another score on second-and-goal from the 6, and Austin Donoho (9 catches, 49 yards) caught a pass for the 2-point conversion. But the Rockets couldn’t take advantage of a Byron fumble at the Rock Falls 9, Mammosser getting picked again by Larson on the ensuing play. Only this time, Larson scored from 18 yards out for a 49-29 lead.
“That was a dagger to the heart,” Rock Falls coach Scott Berge said.
After fumbling on the next possession, Mammosser was relieved by Tanner Mortonson. A Brendon LeBarron touchdown with 9:02 to play and Mortonson’s 85-yard TD pass to Wharff with 1:19 to play couldn’t offset the 11-play, 6-minute, 46-second, non-scoring drive by Byron between the Rock Falls drives.
LeBarron had 17 carries for 106 yards, and Rock Falls was outgained just 479-465, but Byron had four backs with at least 75 yards, including 100-yard rusher Tyler Huddleston (17-105), and dominated time of possession 32:04 to 14:29.