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MENDOTA — The beginning of Friday’s Big Northern Conference crossover game between Mendota and Rockford Christian lived up to the even keel billing.
Then the Mendota crowd witnessed a power running game at its best as the Trojans rushed 48 times for 465 yards and four touchdowns to rout the Royal Lions 52-21.
Junior Wyatt Martinson ran the ball 25 times for 281 yards and three touchdowns, and senior fullback Jimmy Bruno solidified the two-headed monster running game with 99 yards on 15 carries.
“I think the momentum changer was when we went into halftime and we said, ‘It’s time to start playing football the way we’re supposed to play football and quit making mental mistakes’ because everything that was getting us was mental mistakes,” Trojan coach Brock Sondgeroth said. “It shouldn’t have been 14-14 at halftime. I mean, we were dominating the line of scrimmage the entire first half, we just were not scoring.”
Rockford Christian struck first when sophomore quarterback Nolan Gazouski threw a 65-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Kalab Polky the fourth play into the game on third-and-11.
The Trojans answered with everything but a touchdown as Martinson and Bruno gained every inch from Mendota’s 8-yard line to the Royal Lions’ 10 except for a 5-yard Rockford Christian false start call.
However, the drive was ended with a Mendota interception in the middle of the end zone.
After Mendota forced a three-and-out, the Trojans were in scoring contention once again and capitalized with a 48-yard pass from junior backup quarterback James Carroll to junior receiver Ryan Reeder at the 2:39 mark in the first quarter to tie the game at 7-7.
The Royal Lions then did what they did best Friday — threw the ball for another long bomb as Gazouski hit Polky once again for a 47-yard touchdown to take a 14-7 lead with 11:10 left in the first half.
“They had the two deep passes — the exact same play both times — we let it over the top, our corners know not to do that. That’s something that will be fixed,” Sondgeroth said. “We have two good corners. I don’t expect to see it happen much.”
And the Trojans didn’t let it happen the rest of the game.
After the two long touchdown heaves by Gazouski, the Trojans held their own and didn’t allow a pass completion of more than 10 yards until Gazouski had attempted 13 more passes.
With the defense performing as a solid unit, the game was put in the hands of the offense.
Martinson tied the game at 14-14 with a 33-yard touchdown dash down the sideline. “It is so much fun when the O-line comes to play,” Martinson said. “I tried to congratulate them on every block they have I see coming through the holes.”
The first possession of the second half was sour as a botched pitch resulted in a Mendota fumble and a Rockford Christian recovery.
However, each one of the Trojans’ final six chances to put points on the board resulted in exactly that — points.
Bruno ran up the gut for an 11-yard touchdown after the Mendota defense stuffed a Gazouski sneak for a first down on third-and-1.
On the first play after the kickoff, Carroll intercepted a pass, which the Trojans converted into a touchdown on a 37-yard run from Martinson.
Mendota didn’t lift off the throttle as senior Mikan Biers recovered a Royal Lions fumble on the kickoff return.
Junior linebacker Will Engel ended the next RC possession when he intercepted a pass attempt by the punter after a bad snap. Engel caught the ball in the end zone for another Trojan six points.
After a Reeder 47-yard field goal, a 20-yard touchdown run by junior fullback Shane Kruse and a 2-yard score from Martinson — the Royals’ touchdown with four minutes left didn’t matter as Mendota had the game well in hand.
“Mainly, we came out in the second half with a lot of intensity,” Bruno said. “We saw our opportunities when they were running; we took them, cracked down on defense and did what we had to do. We went hard to the ball defensively and were successful. I think that’s how we won the game.”