Rockvale pounds its way to first-ever postseason berth

MURFREESBORO – Ask some of the Rockvale senior starters and they’ll say the summer training program for the Rockvale Rockets was focused on one thing – beating Blackman.

“The coaches told us at the beginning that all the training was leading up to this,” Rockvale quarterback Logan Nowacki said following the Rockets’ 50-45 victory over visiting Blackman on Friday.

 “All the summer running, all the summer lifting, getting up in the morning, for this,” Rockvale running back Lamarcus Nelson added with a tired, but defiant smile on his face.

“That was a big one for us,” Rockvale head coach Rick Rice said. “It was one that we kind of, during the offseason, looked at this game because we knew if we got some wins early, the game with Blackman would have playoff implications and sure enough it was.”

Rockvale utilized a five-touchdown performance from La’Marcus Nelson and withstood a furious fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Blaze and secure at least a third-place finish in Region 4-6A. The loss, coupled with Stewarts Creek’s win over Siegel, ended the Blaze’s playoff hopes.

It was tough on these kids, our first two years going 1-7,” continued Rice, “but tonight makes all that hard work come to light.”

 “I’m really proud of this team, we’ve worked really hard for three years,” Rockets running back Landon Starnes said, “We started at Central Magnet and we didn’t even have our own field and now we are in the playoffs.”

Nowacki added, “We came into this year telling everybody we’re coming different. We trust in the process. No matter what happens this coaching staff is amazing, the team we faced was amazing, they almost got us in the end.”   

With kickoff moved up an hour due to inclement weather forecasts, many of the crowd were late arrivers to the game. Those that were late likely missed Blackman’s opening drive that ate up 4:29 and culminated with a short pass from Jack Risner to Justin Brown that turned into a 37-yard score.  Brown finished with nine catches for 151 yards and three scores. The Risner-to-Ben Marshall two-point conversion put the Blaze up 8-0.

The Rockets responded with a punishing ground game led by their senior-laden offensive line opening holes for Nelson and Robert Daniel. The Rockets rolled up 415 rushing yards, with Nelson getting the lion’s share with 232.  Nelson also added three two-point conversions.

Nelson finished off the Rockets’ opening drive with an 11-yard run cutting the Blackman lead to 8-7. It was the last lead for the Blaze, as they were unable to get anything going on their following possession and Daniel put the Rockets up for good with a 20-yard run and to Rockvale out in front 14-8.

“We’ve got 25, 26, or 27 (seniors),” Rice said. “They were sophomores when they started here and they’ve played a lot of football because we had to throw them to the wolves. They much bigger, much faster, and much smarter, football-wise.”

Nelson added, “Our offensive line showed out, so I give it to them. We knew we had to match scores. It didn’t matter if their offense scored or not because we were going to score right back.”

The size and strength of the Rocket offensive and defensive lines continued to stifle Blackman. Defensively, the Rockets shut down the Blaze running game, forcing them to the air. A fumble recovered by Rockvale led to Nelson’s second touchdown of the game and a two-score lead, as Blackman was unable to stop the Rockets’ offensive attack.

Somewhat frustrated by the inability to stop the Rockvale offense, Blackman head coach Chandler Tygard addressed Blackman’s lack of experience. “We spent two weeks on defense, I was with the defense for two weeks,” Tygard said. “You can only scheme up so much, you can only hide so much. We need big, strong guys that like to hit and tackle, and we don’t have a lot of those. They averaged nine (yards) a carry in the first half.”

Blackman remained resilient as Peyton Thomas’ 27-yard pass to Ben Marshall cut the lead to four points. From there the teams would trade scores. A late Logan Nowacki run put the Rockets up 36-24 as the half ended.

The third quarter was all Rockvale as the Rockets ground clock. A 4-yard Nelson score midway through the third quarter opened the Rockvale lead to 44-24. Five seconds into the fourth quarter, Nelson picked up his fifth and final score of the night from short yardage and Rockvale took its largest lead of the night at 50-24.

Blackman drove down the field on its next drive, capping it with a Jaylyn Pleasant 12-yard run.  A Risner-to-Brown pass with 2:51 left cut the Rocket lead to 12 points, and sparking the Blackman band into a lively rendition of Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” while Rockvale’s student section countered with “Scoreboard!” chants. All in all, the Blaze finished with 430 yards through the air.

The tension grew larger seconds later as Rockvale fumbled away its next possession just across midfield.  Another Risner-to-Brown connection, this one from 57 yards cut the lead back to four at 50-45. However, the rally ended there as the Rockets recovered the onside kick.

“We do that every week,” Tygard said regarding his team’s near comeback. “We wait till the fourth quarter and we come storming back and the defense plays a lot better and it’s literally every single week. I assume it’s a youth thing because it’s always the middle eight (minutes). The last four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the second half. That’s what kills us. It’s frustrating.”

“We had to make it interesting,” Rice commented on the frantic finish. “That was frustrating. Defensively, we’ve got to learn how to stop that kind of stuff. It’s hard to stop, but we’re going to learn. We’re going to learn.”

Rockvale goes on the road to meet Coffee County next week, while Blackman travels to Cookeville. The Rockets will host Oakland for the Region 4-6A title on Oct. 29.

ROCKVALE 50, BLACKMAN 45

Blackman (3-5 overall, 0-4 Region 4-6A), Rockvale (7-1, 3-1)1234Total
Blackman81602145
Rockvale14228650

1st Quarter

B – Justin Brown 31 pass from Jack Risner, 8:31. Ben Marshall pass from Risner.

R – LaMarcus Nelson 11 run, 4:27. Eban Braser kick.

R – Robert Daniel 20 run, 1:31. Braser kick.

2nd Quarter

R – Nelson 6 run, 11:55. Run failed.

B – Marshall 27 pass from Peyton Thomas, 11:01. Risner run.

R – Nelson 4 run, 7:17. Nelson run.

B – Marshall 27 pass from Risner, 5:12. Ethan Murray pass from Risner.

R – Logan Nowacki 9 run, 1:08. Nelson run.

3rd Quarter

R – Nelson 4 run, 7:27. Nelson run.

4th Quarter

R – Nelson 6 run, 11:55. Run failed.

B – Jaylyn Pleasant 12 run, 8:58. Miles Tory kick.

B – Brown 10 pass from Risner, 2:51. Tory kick.

B – Brown 57 pass from Risner, 2:13. Tory kick.

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