HARTFORD — Last season, Rockville snuck into the playoffs with seven wins and was promptly clobbered by St. Joseph, the eventual state champion.
It’s safe to say the Rams will be sticking around a bit longer this year.
The top-seeded Rams opened the Class M playoffs with a bang, shutting down and shutting out No. 8 SMSA/University/Classical 33-0 on Wednesday at Weaver High School.
“Last year we were here, and we weren’t quite ready,” Rockville coach Erick Knickerbocker said. “We played St. Joe’s, so it was an uphill battle.”
This time around, not so much. The Rams defense forced five takeaways, four of them interceptions, to cement a relatively stress-free win and a berth in the semifinals. They’ll host fifth-seeded Weston — a 49-6 winner over fourth-seeded Abbott Tech/Immaculate on Wednesday — on Monday.
“Our defense is really good,” Rockville cornerback Deshaun Perry said. “We always play our game. We do it play by play. We had a lot of big plays.”
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Perry, a sophomore, registered one of them on the game’s first series, picking off a fourth-down pass in the end zone. Pequot rival SMSA (8-3) drove into the red zone three more times on the night, but continually came up empty.
The Rams (11-0) had four rushing touchdowns, including runs of 13 and 2 yards by junior Kevin Foley.
“That hurts,” SMSA coach Kevin Quinn said of his team’s offensive struggles. “We picked a bad day not to execute offensively. But at the end of the day, you can’t take anything away from Rockville. They were 10-0 for a reason, the one seed for a reason. Their defense, they hit with a purpose.”
An interception by Anthony Mierez on SMSA’s second drive helped set up the game’s first points — a 14-yard scramble by quarterback Jonathan O’Coin. The Rams scored twice more before the half on a 13-yard run by Foley and a 5-yard catch by Jaquan Dufour for a commanding 20-0 lead.
“We stiffened down on the D-line. Our pass coverage, especially down on the goal line, was just tremendous,” Knickerbocker said. “Tommy Rhoades, Nas Knighton, they were in the backfield all night and really made it tough for SMSA to get anything when the going got tough.”
Said Rhoades: “Everyone had a really good night. Everyone was getting really excited and everyone rallied to the ball.”
Avery Wilson and Christopher Mierez joined Perry and Anthony Mierez in collecting interceptions.
SMSA had an opportunity to climb back in the second half, but turned it over on downs at the Rockville 7. The Rams extended their lead to 27-0 on a 4-yard run by Jason Clarke with 17 seconds left in the third.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Rockville defense: It wouldn’t be fair to single anyone out. The Rams defense, as a whole, was flat out dominant, notching their second straight shutout and fifth of the season.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
With its home field covered in snow, Rockville had no choice but to move its playoff game to another venue. Rams coach Erick Knickerbocker was nervous about the change, fearing that it would distract his team. Ultimately, it didn’t matter.
“I was freaking about it for way too long, thinking about shoveling and all that stuff,” he said with a smile. “But we’re going to do our best to get it ready for the next game.”
“I told the team at the beginning of the year, no one was expecting anything from us other than the coaches and the players. We knew we had a good football team, and we competed each and every game, including this one. … At the end of the day, 8-2, this is the winningest class ever to come through SMSA,” Tigers coach Kevin Quinn said.