WINSTED — On a day that left Rockville coach Erick Knickerbocker disappointed, his undefeated Rams, the top-ranked Class M football team in the state, still held up their end on the scoreboard with a 31-3 win over Gilbert/Northwestern Saturday afternoon at Gilbert’s Van Why Field.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes,” Knickerbocker told his team. “We didn’t move forward today.”
G/N coach Scott Salius gave his defense credit for the Rams slower-than-usual progress.
“We took away a lot of things they wanted to do,” Salius said. “Against a team that’s capable of putting up 40 or more points a game, I was real proud of our guys for holding them to a 12-3 lead at the half.”
Rockville receiver Chris Mierez (7 receptions, 82 yards) scored three of the Rams’ five touchdowns — two on passes from quarterback Jonathan O’Coin and one on a 75-yard interception return — but Coach Knickerbocker was equally proud of a centerpiece of his defensive line — 5-foot-11, 284-pound tackle Niles Knighton — for holding the Yellowjackets’ offense in check.
VIDEO – When you hold your opponent to 3-points, you gotta talk DEFENSE, am I right? Rockville Rams have plenty of highlights following its 31-to-3 victory at Gilbert-Northwestern Yellowjackets on Saturday October 26, 2019. Congrats @TheRockFootball pic.twitter.com/IZIKah8e90
— Tez TV (@ETezTV) October 27, 2019
“(Knighton) was a difference maker today,” said Knickerbocker, in his second year as the Rams’ head coach. “He had 3 ½ sacks and 15 tackles in a game we knew wasn’t going to be fun. Coach Salius does a great job and every year, we know they’re coming at you.”
“They were the most physical team we’ve played so far,” said Knighton.
The story of Saturday’s first half was just that — two front lines coming at each other hard.
G/N, led by senior tackle Dylan Keith, largely stuffed the Rams’ usually balanced running game, so Rockville first-year quarterback Jonathan O’Coin took to the air in an opening 10-play scoring drive featuring a 45-yard bomb to Deshaun Perry.
Kevin Foley (7 carries, 72 yards) took it the last two yards for a 6-0 lead.
The Rams stopped G/N in four downs, but the Yellowjacket defense stung O’Coin for the first of two interceptions on Rockville’s next series. Chase Sanden brought this one back to the Rockville 27. Five plays later, premier kicker Josh Hamel cashed in with a 30-yard field goal with 2:37 left in the first quarter.
The second quarter featured more head-knocking up front, but G/N’s ironman line plays both sides of the ball, facing big fresh faces like Knighton while the Rams play largely with two units.
“We’ve got to improve our offense so we can stay on the field longer,” said Coach Salius.
As the first half waned, Foley found a crack in the Yellowjacket line, bouncing through for 41 yards to the G/N 15. O’Coin hit Mierez in the end zone with a 10-yard pass and a 12-3 lead.
O’Coin was back to the airways in the third quarter after G/N fizzled in four plays, lofting it downfield with passes of 15 and 29 yards to Mierez and Alex Deane, then finishing the drive with a the same 10-yard pass to Mierez that worked in the first half.
Both defenses were ready for passes early in the final period. Rockville’s Deane picked off a surprise pass by Yellowjacket Fred Calder-Camp to begin the volley. Clay Maloney took it back on an interception for G/N. Then Mierez made the trade-off’s hurt, returning a pass by G/N quarterback Anthony Carfiro 75 yards up the right side of the field for a 24-3 Rockville lead.
The final straw for G/N came in mop-up time. Back-up Ram quarterback Matt Ryan looked for receivers from G/N’s 21-yard line. Instead, he found open field, sprinting in for the final score.
The win takes the Rams to 6-0 for the first time since 1996 after a 7-3 season last year.
“The kids wanted to take the next step,” said Coach Knickerbocker. “We lost some close ones last year and I think we learned from it, especially in one we thought cost us a chance at a playoff spot.”
“Our chemistry is so much better this year,” said quarterback O’Coin in his take on the improvement.
The Yellowjackets (2-3) made it tough on what Salius says “is probably the best team we’ll face this season.
“We have some winnable games coming up,” he said.