FALL RIVER — It looked early on like Friday night’s Trailways Small Conference clash between the Randolph and Fall River/Rio prep football teams was going to be a shootout.
Both sides traded uppercuts to the jaw in the first quarter. The Rebels’ Carson Richardson took a quarterback keeper off the right end for a 9-yard touchdown run 4 minutes in, and the Rockets’ Jordan Tietz’s 56-yard run sparked an eight-play, 98-yard drive that he finished off with a 3-yard TD late in the period.
But then the game bogged down into a defensive slugfest. Finally Randolph was able to land the knockout punch — a 55-yard Brayden Haffele to Matt Dykstra TD strike with 10 minutes, 40 seconds remaining on a perfectly thrown pass up the right sideline that paved the way for the Rockets to claim a 12-6 victory, keeping alive their perfect start to the year.
“That’s really what it came down to — we made a big play and they had a couple that they just missed on,” Randolph coach Tom Chase said. “We just missed on a couple, too, but we were able to make the big play and that was the difference in the game.”
Fall River/Rio (2-3, 0-2 Trailways West) had plenty of chances, even after Dykstra’s long TD catch. But the Rebels went three-and-out on the ensuing drive and then after Randolph’s Seth Schmucki missed on a 37-yard field goal try with 1:49 to play that would have made it a two-possession game, Fall River/Rio couldn’t manufacture a first down and turned the ball over on downs to end the game.
After such a promising start, the Rebels simply couldn’t gain any traction the rest of the way.
It wasn’t just one thing that kept them from getting going, though.
It was “lots of things,” Fall River/Rio coach Cody Schultz said. “When you score six points (it’s not enough). We just didn’t do a lot of things right — at the end of the day, that’s what all it came down to.
“We didn’t execute what we had worked on — stuff that we thought looked good in practice that we ran against the defense that we saw.”
Fall River/Rio’s defense was up to the task of keeping the Rebels in the game at least.
After Tietz’s 56-yard dash that got Randolph (5-0, 2-0) out from backed up against its own goal line and then his eventual TD run, the Rebels were able to slow the Rockets the rest of the way.
“We had guys not do their responsibilities. I think we were jacked up ready to go and they all looked in the backfield, which is what this team wants you to do,” Schultz said of that long run by Tietz on Randolph’s first offensive play of the game. “We wanted them to have to throw the ball to beat us, because coming into the game they had only thrown 14 times. So we wanted to make them throw and beat us left-handed.
“They ended up completing a pass (to Dykstra) vs. one of our best linebackers, and that’s the way it rolls sometimes.”
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That pass hit Dykstra in perfect stride at the Fall River/Rio’s 35-yard-line and after it very nearly trickled off his fingertips incomplete, he was able to break an arm tackle at the 10 to finish off the TD.
As the saying goes, it’s a game of inches.
“It is a game of inches,” Chase said, “and we needed every inch tonight.
“Hats off to Fall River/Rio, they’re a good football team. So we had to play our hearts out.”
The extra effort paid off, and now Randolph is knocking on the doorstep of making the playoffs for the second straight year after missing out in 2016 and 2017.
Even better, it's looking like the Rockets might be equipped for their first deep playoff run since making the Division 7 state semifinals in 2012.
Momentum is building.
“It is," said Chase, who added that his team rallied around Parker Kohn after he had to leave in an ambulance because of a second-quarter injury. "This was huge for us to win this game here to have an opportunity to maybe sneak into the playoffs and see what we can do.
"I’m just proud of the kids. These kids are so much fun to coach. They’re just a blast and they’re awesome kids. They never give up — they keep fighting and fighting, even through injury they keep fighting."