ROSSVILLE — Things went about as smooth as possible for Rossville’s offense in the first half of Friday’s War on 24 showdown with arch rival Silver Lake.
The Bulldawgs scored on four of their first five possessions and racked up 294 yards and 13 first downs in the half.
Defensively? Well, Rossville was in a bit of scramble mode, as Silver Lake nearly matched the Bulldawgs score for score and yard for yard in the half.
"They had some nice new schemes and they took advantage of those schemes," Rossville coach Derick Hammes said of the Eagles, who scored on their first three possessions, including two pass plays of 60-plus yards, and amassed 240 yards. "They forced us into some coverage breakdowns."
While certainly equipped to win a prolonged shootout (see a 58-57 win over Rock Creek in Week 2), Rossville instead found some answers defensively to take control. A key interception late in the first half set the tone for a defensive turnaround, as Rossville stiff-armed Silver Lake in the second half and pulled away for a 50-35 win in the battle of Class 2A’s No. 1 and 2 teams.
"We adjusted at halftime," Hammes said. "Where we were at the beginning of the year against somebody that puts the ball in the air like that to where we’re at now is we had more quarterback pressure. And that’s what you need. You can only cover for so long.
"We got some pressure and then had the ability to cover a little bit once we got things figured out. Hats off to them because they had some really good schemes against us early."
Silver Lake’s new wrinkle allowed quarterback Daigan Kruger to sit back and pick apart Rossville’s defense with relative ease. The junior connected on seven of his first nine pass attempts, three of those completions going for touchdowns.
Hitting Gannon Remer on a 5-yard scoring pass and Nathan Boyden for a 67-yard tackle-breaking strike to answer Rossville touchdown runs from Torrey Horak of 17 and 3 yards, Kruger then gave Silver Lake a 21-14 lead when he found Remer all alone for a 64-yard scoring bomb five plays into the second quarter.
Needing to come up with an answer of its own, Rossville did. On both sides of the ball.
After Corey Catron’s 1-yard run cut the Eagle lead to 21-20, the Bulldawg defense sprung to life, forcing a pair of Silver Lake turnovers on its next two possessions. A fumble by Kruger near midfield set up a 46-yard touchdown run by Woodrow Rezac, but it was the second turnover that was even bigger.
Silver Lake immediately drove to the Rossville 7 and, poised to re-take the lead, the Eagles instead saw Bulldawg defensive back Kaden Brown pick off Kruger at the goal line to thwart the threat.
The pick turned the tide for Rossville’s defense. After seeing Kruger go 7-of-10 passing for 199 yards in the first half, the Bulldawgs held him to 8-of-27 passing for 82 yards in the second half.
"I thought the last four minutes of the second quarter and the third quarter, we were out of sorts," Silver Lake coach C.J. Hamilton said. "Credit to them, they made the plays. The interception in the end zone took some steam out because we were driving to answer their call."
A couple self-inflicted wounds also keyed the swing that saw Rossville score 26 straight points in the second and third quarters. Twice the Eagles lost big yardage on bad snaps over Kruger’s head, the second of those coming on a fourth-and-1 play at midfield.
The Bulldawgs followed each of those empty Eagle possessions with touchdown drives. Horak hit Catron for a 5-yard score and then connected with Bo Reeves on a 33-yard strike that made it 40-21.
"They’re big but if you don’t capitalize, it’s all for naught," Hammes said. "The fact that we capitalized on those mistakes was huge."
Silver Lake found the end zone twice in the second half — a 3-yard run by Remer and 11-yard run by Kruger — but could never get closer than 12.
After its big first half, Silver Lake managed just 113 yards in the second half.
"We made some adjustments in the second half and we knew if we were going to win this football game we were going to have to get a couple stops," Horak said. "We came out, especially in the third quarter, and made some crucial stops and that was big."
Horak capped a big night with a 54-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that restored a 19-point Rossville lead. He finished the night with 181 yards and three touchdowns rushing and another 186 yards and two touchdowns passing.
Rezac ran for 113 yards, 108 in the first half, before tweaking his ankle late in the half. Catron had a combined 119 rushing and receiving yards and Kaiden Brown had two clutch catches for 76 yards.
Kruger finished with 281 yards passing and three touchdowns and also ran for 101 yards and a touchdown. But he also lost a fumble and was picked twice, the second by Raphael Cooney in the end zone to seal the Rossville victory.
"We needed this big time," Horak said. "Obviously we love coming out and playing these guys. This test was big and we’ll learn from our mistakes and come back and maybe see these guys again."
ROSSVILLE 50, SILVER LAKE 35
Silver Lake (4-1);14;7;7;7;—;35
Rossville — Horak 17 run (Reeves kick)
Silver Lake — Remer 5 pass from Kruger (kick blocked)
Rossville — Horak 3 run (Reeves kick)
Silver Lake — Boyden 67 pass from Kruger (Kruger run)
Silver Lake — Remer 64 pass from Kruger (Feuerbacher kick)
Rossville — Catron 1 run (kick failed)
Rossville — Rezac 47 run (run failed)
Rossville — Catron 5 pass from Horak (Reeves kick)
Rossville — Reeves 33 pass from Horak (Reeves kick)
Silver Lake — Remer 3 run (Feuerbacher kick)
Rossville — Horak 54 run (Reeves kick)
Silver Lake — Kruger 11 run (Feuerbacher kick)
Rossville — Reeves 36 field goal
Rushing — Silver Lake: Kruger 22-101, Renfro 7-8, Schwartz 1-minus 2, Remer 3-1, Team 2-minus 36. Rossville: Horak 23-181, Rezac 14-113, Catron 14-52.
Passing — Silver Lake: Kruger 15-37-2, 281 yards. Rossville: Horak 8-14-1, 186 yards.
Receiving — Silver Lake: Renfro 3-10, Remer 4-96, Boyden 5-133, Schwartz 3-42. Rossville: Catron 4-67, Kai. Brown 2-76, Reeves 2-38, Rezac 1-5.