An effective rushing attack coupled with a defense that has undergone some tinkering helped Logan-Rogersville to a 28-6 win over Aurora Friday night.
The victory moves the Wildcats to 2-1, giving them a winning record for the first time under third-year head coach Mark Talbert.
Rogersville trailed for a measly 16 seconds early in the contest after Houn’ Dawgs junior quarterback Aaron Fisher carried for a touchdown that was followed by an unsuccessful extra-point try. On the ensuing kickoff, J.J. O’Neal moved untouched through the initial mass, then broke several tackles near midfield before hitting the endzone on an 87-yard TD that, with the extra point, gave his team a 7-6 lead, coupled with a huge swing of momentum.
“They started off hot and heavy; we let them score, came back, turned it around,” O’Neal said. “It changed the momentum real quick. That’s something we need every week. Coach has been bugging us to get a kickoff return for a touchdown since he got here, and I got the chance to do it. It was huge.”
From there, it wasn’t as one-sided as the scoreboard made it appear, but the Wildcats were undoubtedly less one-dimensional, and more sure-handed on special teams. After both teams exchanged several possessions in the second quarter, Rogersville managed to twice extend its lead before half. Pushed back by a hold, O’Neal completed a 13-yard pass, then picked up six yards himself to set up 3rd-and-1. From there, two Zach Bergmann runs moved the chains again. Finally, a carry by Riley Williams positioned O’Neal for his second TD of the night, a 4-yard keeper to the left, making it 14-6 with 3:23 until intermission.
That’s when the special teams play factored in again. Faced with 4th-and-21, the snap to punt by Aurora was bobbled and allowed L-R to take over at its own 12-yard line. Bergmann picked up a collective nine yards on two runs and appeared to cross the pylon on his third. Instead, it was ruled short, and he cashed in on the fourth try, making it 21-6 with 59 ticks left in the half.
On the other side of the break, the Houn’ Dawgs were unable to take advantage of Brendon Hall’s interception of O’Neal. Though a helmet-to-helmet call that pushed them back didn’t prevent them from eventually getting into the red zone, the Wildcats’ defense stood tall, and on 4th-and-7 from the 17-yard line a keeper by Fisher came up well short.
Despite a 33-yard run by Williams, a holding penalty wiped out a long gain by O’Neal and forced the Wildcats to punt, but after Aurora again delved into enemy territory, the L-R defense prevailed again on fourth down, this time aided by Patrick Comito, who swiped down a pass 20 yards downfield.
Bergmann eventually added a second touchdown that put the icing on the cake in the game’s final moments, but he conjured up a more remarkable down earlier in the fourth quarter. With over 10 minutes left, Bergmann took a toss right and sought a receiver, but unable to do so, had to adapt on the go. After breaking a tackle, he made it wide of the left hash, and, as he approached the line of scrimmage, shuffled it back to O’Neal, who gained 25 yards on the broken play.
“We worked that pitch pass all week,” Bergmann said. “When [the pass] didn’t happen, I went to the left side and I heard J.J. yell, ‘Pitch, pitch.’ … I said, ‘I’m going to see what this guy does.’ The guy came up and I pitched it to him. It was pretty sweet.”
“It wasn’t planned or anything,” O’Neal added. “Just in the moment. We’re in sync.”
Aurora (2-1) entered Week 3 averaging nearly 400 yards rushing against its first two Big 8 opponents, but the Wildcats held the Houn’ Dawgs to roughly half that in a win that improved them to 2-1, their first time above .500 since midway through the 2017 year.
“It feels great,” Talbert said. “We couldn’t stay healthy, but we knew we were a better team than our 3-8 record last year. We’re healthy right now, and that’s a big deal.”
The Wildcats take on Cassville at home in Week 4. The teams last met in 2011, when L-R defeated them in the playoffs, 28-7, on the way to Class 3 state title.