BY JOHN THEALL Sports writer
KICKING OFF THE SEASON — RFA junior Dylan Thomas boots the season-opening kickoff against Liverpool on Friday night at the Stadium. The Black Knights rallied for a 26-9 Class AA-1 win. (Sentinel photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)
GET BACK HERE — RFA senior middle linebacker Dan Secor drags Liverpool ball carrier Joshua Withrow down to the turf during a Class AA-1 contest on Friday night at the Stadium. Secor made eight tackles in Rome’s 26-9 victory. (Sentinel photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)
GOING DOWN — Liverpool tailback Joshua Withrow, center, holds on to the football as RFA linebacker Charlie Zonnevylle wraps him up and brings him to the ground during Friday night’s Class AA-1 opener against the visiting Warriors. Zonnevylle made nine tackles as the Black Knights’ defense swarmed the visitors all night in their 26-9 victory. (Sentinel photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)
From the moment Kyle Hash ran through the goalposts and onto the field on Friday night, he said that he had butterflies.
By the time the second half rolled around, the first-year varsity quarterback was providing the punishing blows against the Liverpool defense.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior co-captain Hash managed the Black Knights’ ground game and tossed two second half touchdowns, while Rome’s defense pummeled the Warriors’ front line to run away with a 26-9 Class AA-1 victory on a windy season opener at the Stadium.
Hash said it was an experience unlike any he had ever envisioned.
"Oh yeah, I was nervous. You can’t really control that. I was anxious to play all afternoon and it was the longest afternoon that I had ever had," he said.
"This win really meant a lot for us, we all worked hard for it and got it. It just feels great. The plays were executed perfectly. The team did their job and I just tried to do my job. It’s a great transition from last year for us," he added.
Paving the way for Hash in the first half, the ground game of the backfield of Rich Stapleton, Jordan Henry and bruising fullback Dominick Griggs shouldered the load until their quarterback got his feet in the second half.
Finding his way he did.
Hash hooked up with Zach Barrigar for a 30-yard touchdown strike down the center of the field on a play action pass and then found a streaking 6-foot-2 wideout Josh Royce down the sidelines for another 30-yard TD to put the Black Knights ahead for good, 26-9.
"It was great," said Hash about getting a win in his first start after completing 4-of-11 passes for 98 yards and the two scores with 43 yards rushing.
"It was a slow start in the beginning, but we were prepared for it and got the win. It got better as the game went on and when I hit Zach (Barrigar) for the first touchdown it really sealed the deal and I was completely confident."
"He was nervous in there, but I’m very proud of him for what he was able to do tonight and he looked very good while running the option tonight," said second year RFA coach Ted Swavely. "We just have to get him to settle down a little bit and he’ll be fine. He threw a few beautiful balls, which was nice because we set it up with the good running game that we had tonight," Swavely added.
With the feeling of Hurricane Earl in the air, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Griggs created some strong pressure of his own on the field. He bulled his way through the Liverpool defensive line for 11 carries 73 yards. Griggs wore out the line so that speedsters Henry, who raced for 53 yards on nine carries, and Stapleton, who ran for 34 yards on six carries, could capitalize on the tired lineman. Both Henry and Stapleton ran for TDs while Henry’s 8-yard burst down the corner of the end zone gave the Black Knights a 13-9 go-ahead lead right before the half. Kicker Dylan Thomas converted on the extra point for the 14-9 lead after RFA had trailed 9-0 at the start of the game.
The Black Knights didn’t get many touches on offense in the first quarter as the Warriors used 17 plays and picked up five first downs on the way while moving the ball 60 yards on their opening drive. But the visitors came away empty after chewing up nine minutes off the clock when kicker Connor Rogers missed a 26-yard field goal attempt.
RFA then put the ball on the carpet on a fumble during the first play from scrimmage, leading to a 30-yard field goal by Rogers.
Rome went three-and-out on their next series before Elijah Johnson broke a 69-yard run to set up a Raymar Temple 1-yard TD run up the gut to put the Warriors up, 9-0.
That would be the last score the Black Knights would issue the rest of the game.
RFA allowed 162 yards of total offense in the first 16 minutes of the game, and only 41 yards in the rest of the 32 minutes of play.
Senior linebacker and co-captain Charlie Zonnevylle had nine tackles and forced a fumble, as hard-hitting linebacker Dan Secor had eight tackles, Stapleton had seven total tackles, and first-year junior cornerback Aaron Tennant had an interception, recovered a fumble and made six total tackles.
"We have a lot of energy, our captains are great, and Charlie (Zonnevylle) has really been a great anchor on the defense," said Tennant, who too said he had some nerves before his first varsity start.
"After you hit somebody they all go away," he said. "I tried to execute the best I could. I wasn’t thinking about getting turnovers, just trying to be in on every play," he added.
Swavely recognized that his defense was flying all over the field and caused a lot of pressure in the backfield.
"Defense did a great job, we struggled with their offense a little bit, but we stopped them and kept the pressure and gave up nothing the rest of the game. I can’t say enough about the defense. After those nine points, they locked down and they gave up nothing," said Swavely.
"That’s a tough offense to stop when they go heavy like that. We just stayed strong and we did a pretty good job right there," said Swavely, who gave credit to his entire defensive line for their efforts.
Liverpool coach Dave Mancuso, too, noticed the difference between the Black Knights’ defense from last year when the Warriors won, 44-28 at the Carrier Dome, and the unit he saw Friday.
"We knew we’d have our hands full. RFA is a very good team and they are a big group of kids. They have a lot of kids back, and they seem to be five to 10 pounds heavier, and it seems like they have a good chemistry," he said.
"It seems like the old days of Rome when they played hard-nosed defense and ran the ball right at you, and I thought that quarterback for them did a nice job at running the offense," Mancuso added.
For the Warriors, Johnson was their leading rusher with 89 yards on 13 carries, while Luigi Barletta tossed for 49 yards on 5-of-14 passing with an interception. The Warriors will take on host Central Square on Friday starting at 7 o’clock. The team has played two straight seasons on the road as their stadium turf has been refurbished.
They will return to their home field during week three of this season on Sept. 17 against Baldwinsville to end a string of 23 games of playing on the road.
The Black Knights will go on the road for their next two games, taking on longtime rival Proctor High next Friday night at 7 o’clock at D’Alessandro Stadium before they go to Central Square on Sept. 17 for a 7 p.m. game time start.
They will return home on Sept. 24 against Cicero-North Syracuse for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Proctor opened its season with a 54-26 win at Auburn on Friday night.