by Joseph W. Gex II, Contributing Writer
The Saint Stanislaus Rock-A-Chaws made the long trip to Foxworth on Friday night to tangle with the Trojans of West Marion for the Division 8-3A football championship. Both teams were 3-0 heading into the contest; however, the Rocks jumped ahead and did not look back as they whipped the Trojans 49-7.
The Trojans (4-5, 3-1) opened the game with a drive down to the Rock 9-yard line only to see SSC make a defensive stand and take over on downs. The Rocks only needed four plays to get a lead they did not surrender. Ian Gonzalez Rioz gained two yards on the ground before finding Ethan Galloway for a 9-yard gain. The Rocks were called for holding on the next play which brought the ball back to the original line of scrimmage.
Rioz connected with Isaiah Haynes out of the backfield and Haynes housed the reception for an 89-yard touchdown with 6:04 left in the first quarter. Evan Noel converted the PAT to make the score 7-0.
The two teams traded the ball before SSC got another shot at the scoreboard. The Rocks (8-1, 4-0) took over near midfield and needed just five plays to find the endzone. Rioz hooked up with Galloway for 24 yards before he tossed an aerial to Finn Williford for 14 yards. Then, Rioz found Galloway again for 24 yards and a touchdown with 7:14 left in the first half. Noel converted the PAT for a 14-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Henry Nunmaker made a diving interception to stop a Trojan drive at the West Marion 33-yard line.
Rioz need just Levi Green on this drive as he connected with Green for a gain 24 yards followed by a 9-yard laser for the score with 5:02 left to play in the half. Noel’s PAT made the score 21-0.
The Trojans were stopped by the Rock defense again when Spencer Cornell jumped a passing lane and intercepted a pass and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown with 3:47 left before intermission. Noel’s PAT gave the Rocks a halftime score of 28-0.
West Marion thwarted the Rock offense twice to start the second half. After the second stop, West Marion methodically went down the field on a nine-play drive before scoring on a 25-yard aerial with 3:45 left in the third quarter. The PAT made the score 28-7.
The Rocks answered the call with a six-play drive that saw Rioz and Galloway hook up for the second time in the end zone on an 11-yard aerial with 1:02 left in the third quarter. Noel’s PAT made the score 35-7.
Each squad stopped the other twice before SSC got the ball back on their own 18-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Sam Grant relieved Rioz and pulled the ball before sprinting 22 yards for his first varsity rushing touchdown of his career with 3:29 left to play. Noel’s PAT made the score 42-7.
On the final possession of the game, West Marion fumbled on the first play of the drive and Williford picked up the loose ball and returned it 23 yards for the score with 2:07 left to play. Noel’s PAT made the final score 49-7.
The win gave the Rocks their first division title in football since 2016 along with the #1-seed in the Class 3A state playoffs that begin tomorrow. The Rocks have won division titles in 2004, 2009, and 2015-16.
SSC head football coach Tim Lala commented, “West Marion started the game on fire and we knew they were a potent team. Once we settled down, we found our groove and played consistent football. It was a close game until right before halftime when we were able to get a little momentum with the pick-six. When they scored in the third period, we had to fight to get the momentum back and our players did a solid job of capturing it. Now, we turn our focus to the playoffs. What is different now is that there is nothing guaranteed. We have to win to continue to play. We need to keep our process the same and focus laser sharp on the job and tasks at hand. We will face a Crystal Springs program that we do not have a history with so this will be a new challenge. This senior class is a special group, and I am so proud they could go out as division champions, but our journey is not complete. We will evaluate what we did tonight and prepare to play a talented Crystal Springs team on Friday.”
The Rocks were led by Rioz who threw for 231 yards and four touchdowns in the game. Haynes caught five passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. On the defensive side, Jacob Bradford tallied 11 total tackles with 3 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Charlie Brown added 10 tackles including a sack.
The Rocks will host the Crystal Springs Tigers tonight ‘between the walls’ in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.