REYNOLDS – Andrew Wall was clutch when it counted Friday.
And a big kick from the senior allowed the Rockets to win an instant classic between two old conference rivals at Dalton Stadium.
Defending their home turf, the Rockets survived to defeat visiting Watauga by a final score of 45-43.
Wall’s 41-yard field goal with 4.5 seconds to go was a game-winner.
It would have been good from 51 yards.
Wall drilled the field goal and took off running the other direction before teammates piled on. In the excitement of the game, the Rockets staff had not run the clock on the field goal attempt, so there was still time left for Watauga after the field goal, and Wall’s celebration moved the kickoff back 30 yards. But after a nervy ending, the Rockets came out on top.
“We didn’t play how we wanted to play, and you’re going to have nights like that sometimes, but we found a way. I was proud of them for that,” Reynolds coach Shane Laws said.
“We’ve got two kickers, and both of them are pretty good. Andrew (Wall) has got a little bigger and stronger leg. He was making them from 50 (yards) in warm ups, so we knew if we could get the ball inside the 30, we’d have a chance to kick it.”
The Rockets and Watauga were formerly together in a version of the Northwestern Conference, but have maintained a nonconference series since then.
Although Friday’s kickoff was delayed until 7:45 p.m. due to the late arrival of the Pioneers’ bus, Reynolds (2-2) had no trouble starting off quickly. The Rockets took the ball first and marched right down the field via gashing runs by quarterback Nathan St. Onge and tailback Keyal Talbert from the Rockets’ spread read-option offense, which has become a staple under Laws.
Talbert dove up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown carry just three minutes into the ballgame to make it 7-0.
After both teams traded punts, the Rockets were gifted great field position when Pioneers wingback Cory Williams fumbled the ball at the Watauga 39-yard line. The one-two punch of St. Onge and Talbert struck once more for the Rockets as a long St. Onge scramble led to a 10-yard touchdown run from Talbert to double the lead at 14-0 with 3:37 left in the first quarter.
Watauga quarterback Hamilton Castle (who had 225 yards on 22 carries) laid down the groundwork for the main theme of the game by hitting the Rockets right back. His sleight of hand in the Pioneers’ old-fashioned triple-option rush attack allowed him to get free for a 65-yard run right up the middle after faking a handoff to fullback Evan Suggs.
Before the first quarter could come to a close, the Rockets roared to life once again. Talbert tacked on his third touchdown of the opening quarter with a weaving 38-yard carry. It was originally a broken play, but Talbert cut back to his left and got a key block from his quarterback, St. Onge, en route to the endzone. The score was 21-7 Reynolds as the first quarter drew to a close and 28-20 in favor of the home team at halftime.
As neither defense could keep the opposing offense off the field, the third quarter only consisted of one drive from each team. The two sides entered the fourth quarter tied at 28-all.
Reynolds started the fourth with a quick drive, sparked by running back Sean Jones, who missed the entire first half after also sitting out two games ago against Shelby. Once in the red zone, St. Onge tucked and ran the ball in from seven yards out to give the Rockets back the lead at 35-28.
After Castle tied the game with another touchdown, the ensuing kickoff bobbled to Reynolds returner Kaedin Robinson, who went for 70 yards and gave the Rockets the lead once more, 42-35, with 6:09 left in the game.
The Pioneers answered by working their way down to the goal line before fullback Evan Suggs pounded his way in for a 1-yard score. The ensuing two-point conversion made the score at 43-41.
A 15-yard personal foul penalty on Watauga set up Wall’s kick.
Laws admitted that his team defended the triple option of Watauga “about as bad as (they) could have,” and he was disappointed with the defensive performance.
“We were concerned about the fullback because he had been so good for them. To a large degree, we stopped him, but we didn’t do a good job on the quarterback,” said Laws.
The quarterback he spoke of, Castle, earned 344 total yards and five total touchdowns on the night, leading both teams. Suggs had 15 carries for 72 yards and one score. For Reynolds, Talbert toted the ball 11 times for 123 yards and three touchdowns, while R’Mani Lynch caught six balls for 61 yards and one score. St. Onge, who ran for 141 yards and one touchdown, also completed 11 of 15 passes for 103 yards and another touchdown through the air.
Watauga will be idle next week while Reynolds travels to Hendersonville on Friday.