ROCK FALLS – It took 2 years, but I finally got called a name on Twitter that can’t be published in this column.
I guess I’m kind of hard on Rock Falls football. I’ve many times wondered, 140 characters or fewer at a time while covering a game, why the Rockets do certain things they do.
But if you prick me, trust me, I bleed. And when I approached a group of super-emotional Rockets after their season-ending loss to Oregon on Friday at Hinders Field, I felt for the bunch as much as any other reporter would.
About an hour earlier, Austin Donoho had the most electrifying play of the night. He mishandled a kickoff at the 24 and retreated to pick it up at the 20 before getting the corner down the right sideline. Surrounded by a flock of Hawks, he cut back across the grain and outran the bunch for an 80-yard score.
It make things very interesting at 27-18 early in the third.
Forget for a moment that, two plays later, Garrett Rude restored the three-score lead on a 10-yard run. That Donoho return was something special.
“I love watching Donoho run,” Rock Falls senior Tanner Mortonson said. “He reminds me of Devin Hester, or Reggie Bush, maybe. He stepped up big as being our Alex Leaf this year.
“I said at the beginning of the year, that he’d need to be our Alex Leaf, and he sure as hell did.”
Back to the postgame, Donoho walked away from a forlorn pack of seniors, and the faucet was wide open. That end zone that few people have been able to keep him out of suddenly felt like it was a mile away as the leader of the Rockets crumpled to all fours at the 5.
“He’s pretty rough right now,” said Mortonson, who needed a minute to compose himself before entertaining an interview. “He and [Lucas] Newburgh aren’t in the best shape right now. We’re a close-knit family, and we’re all going to leave as brothers.”
That’s why I love sports. There is often such a thin margin of defeat, yet the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat – or worse yet, realizing your prep career is over – are worlds apart.
And that’s why my heart broke a little bit for all those guys.
To put it in perspective, Oregon senior Sawyer Reynolds tried to explain why it meant so much to get coach John Bothe’s 100th win.
“It’s great to be that team. It’s really great to be that team,” Reynolds said. “He just cares about everybody so much.”
Bothe insisted that all that mattered was the playoffs, but his eyes glistened when I told him what Reynolds had said.
“That’s cool,” Bothe said. “Our program has always been built on the coaches’ relationships with kids. It’s our coaches all the way down. The only thing that’s different about our program is the way we are with our kids. We’re not always easy on them, but there’s a general appreciation. I’d say we kind of like each other.”
You’d better believe that’s the case for the Rockets, too. Despite fans bellowing their dissent from the bleachers, head coach Scott Berge filtered in senior after senior on the last two plays of the game.
He started Tanner Mortonson at quarterback, a reward on Senior Night. Berge clapped proudly for his team, like a proud papa, as the clock hit zero. Then he heartily shook Newburgh’s hand.
Newburgh is one of the cooler kids I’ve covered in the area, and I’m so glad that I’m anal retentive enough to save all of my previous interviews. Because Newburgh had this to say about Berge welling up with tears in front of his players after a tough-to-swallow loss to Byron a few weeks ago:
“Seeing that is so impressive,” Newburgh said. “I’m really close to him outside of football, too. He is just such a great guy who cares so much about us. The whole coaching staff wants to see us succeed.”
Bonds that no one – not even a snarky columnist – can ever tear apart were forged. Those kids will always consider each other family.
So, yes, contrary to records or any tangible measurables, it was a successful season in Rock Falls.