BY JOHN THEALL Sports writer
ROOM TO RUN ¿ RFA junior running back Rich Stapleton runs with the ball down the sidelines during Friday's Class AA-1 game at Central Square. Stapleton rushed for two touchdowns during Rome's 34-0 victory. (Sentinel photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)
KEEP MOVING ON — RFA senior quarterback Kyle Hash charges ahead for more yards as Central Square defender Dylan Catlin, bottom, tries to bring him down while Dylan Ransom comes in on the play during Friday night’s Class AA-1 league game at Central Square. Hash ran for 88 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown during Rome’s 34-0 victory. (Sentinel photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)
JUMP BALL — RFA senior wideout Josh Royce, left, jumps up to try and haul in a catch while Central Square cornerback Mitchell Jones defends him during Friday’s Class AA-1 game in Central Square. Royce had three catches for 59 yards and also had a big game on defense in Rome’s 34-0 win with four tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. (Sentinel photo by Lindsay A. Mogle)
CENTRAL SQUARE — Two-way senior lineman Pat Gosier said that the Rome Free Academy football team came out to play on Friday night against Central Square wasn’t the same one that showed up last week against Proctor High.
It was just a matter of becoming a more physical team, and it took a sudden sense of urgency for the Romans to realize it.
The 6-foot-3, 280-pounder paved the way for his team on both sides of the ball and the intensity from the Black Knights’ defense was back and better than ever. On the heels of a 24-21 loss to longtime rival Proctor, Rome bounced back to play some very physical and inspired football during a 34-0 victory over Class AA-1 league foe Central Square.
"Proctor gave us a lot of motivation because they are a big rival of ours and that loss set us off for this game. We wanted this league win and we came out and got it," Gosier said. "We played very solid defense this week. We got to the ball, made some tackles, and broke into the backfield. It started with the defensive line, and then our linebackers made the plays," added Gosier.
The offensive line did some damage, as well, paving the way for Rich Stapleton, who rushed for two touchdowns while Kyle Hash and Jordan Henry also had TD runs as the defense forced three turnovers and improved their unbeaten streak against the Redhawks to 17 straight games all-time.
The Black Knights’ defense looked like the one that showcased their talents on opening night against Liverpool — a 29-6 victory — as they limited the Redhawks only 234 yards of total offense and just 72 yards on 38 carries on the ground.
Senior tri-captain and middle linebacker Charlie Zonnevylle made an eye-popping 16 total tackles — 13 on assists — while Paul Trela had nine and recovered a fumble, Josh Royce made four tackles and forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and had an interception, and Andrew DeBlasiis wrapped up his opponents on five tackles, was given credit with Gosier on a sack and forced a fumble, as well.
"Defensively, hands down they played physical and showed exactly what we needed from that group. They played a heck of a game," said second-year RFA head coach Ted Swavely after his team improved to 2-0 in the Class AA-1 league and 2-1 overall.
"Zonnevylle has been making some great physical tackles. He had 16 tackles tonight which is unbelievable and he really played a great game for us. The whole defense did. They were physical, they got in there and got some penetration. The defensive line and linebackers did a great job and I’m really proud of the way that they responded from last week’s game," he added.
The execution was equally as sound on the offensive end as the Roman’s linemen picked up their assignments and saw their backfield of four ball carriers rumble down the field on each possession.
Hash rushed for 88 yards and had a 5-yard TD scamper on 18 carries, while Henry ripped off 93 yards on the ground on six carries with a 7-yard score.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound senior lightning-quick speedster Henry also brought back to opening kickoff to begin the second half for an 83-yard touchdown with a few moves in the middle of the field and a burst down the sidelines to put the team up, 27-0.
The Romans then controlled the clock in the second half and came away with the win.
The loss was the 19th in a row for the Redhawks, which fell to 0-3 in the league and overall this season, dating back to the 2007 season.
Junior tailback Anthony Scrafford made his way for 49 yards on 15 carries on the ground, as Tyler Meyers was limited to six carries for 27 yards and Redhawks quarterback Scott Davies was 8-of-21 passing for 96 yards and an interception.
The hosts were also held to 4 of 15 on third down conversions and 0 for 4 while going for it on fourth down.
The Romans’ defense jump-started the team in the first quarter with a goal-line stand on fourth down from the 5. Davies was flushed out of the pocket — a reoccurring theme — and threw an incomplete pass into a heavily guarded end zone and the Romans took over on downs.
They then gained big chunks of yardage on the ground while marching down the field on eight plays, three first downs, before Hash pitched the ball on the option run to a streaking Stapleton down the sidelines for an 18-yard score.
The Redhawks were forced into a three and out series on their next possession, before Tyler Meyers recovered a Rome fumble, but Royce grabbed one of the Black Knights’ four turnovers with an interception of Davies and then brought it back 63 yards to set up first and goal from the 2.
Royce also caught three balls for 59 yards.
Stapleton pounded it in two plays later for the 2-yard rushing TD and quickly the guest were ahead, 13-0.
"It felt real good to get those touchdowns," said Stapleton, who also made four tackles on defense.
"Our offense ran hard to open up the pass and all the other stuff, we still made a few mistakes tonight, but the defense picked it up, and got it back for us all night," he added. "We got a lot of blocks from the linemen and a lot of blocks from the other running backs and receivers. We all ran hard. We worked hard this week, we got everything together after we made some mistakes last week. We fixed them and got back on track by running hard this week."
Coach Swavely said that he was more than happy with the way his squad ran their triple option backfield, RFA’s bread an butter offensive set, against the Redhawks and even displayed just how effective their quarterback option with a mobile Hash under center can be.
"With the next stretch of games that we have coming up, we have to make sure that our blocking scheme is solid. We really saw that tonight and when it’s running good, it’s a very tough offense to stop. When everyone is picking up their man we can really run that option to get us some big gains and that’s what we had tonight. They took away the fullback and I’ll give them credit because (Dominique) Griggs has been our top rusher the last couple weeks, but that is the beauty of the triple option, if you can just stop one, you still have two more options to go," Swavely said.
"The kids came up big and needed to make the blocks and the plays that they had to make," he added.
The Black Knights return home after a two-game road trip on Friday starting at 7 o’clock at the Stadium against Cicero-North Syracuse.