Rome Free Academy senior running back Jordan Henry always knew it was going to be a memorable moment for him to one day run onto the field as a Black Knight on Senior Night.
But he never could have envisioned the memorable game that he would deliver on the special night.
Henry rushed for a team-high 88 yards on 16 carries and scored a touchdown, as the Black Knights’ ground attack got to work to pound out 200 yards on the ground during a 34-12 rout over Class AA-1 foe Nottingham High in front of a sparse crowd on a cold and rainy Friday night at the Stadium.
"It was crazy coming out and it being the last home game," said the speedster Henry, who was one of 22 seniors that were honored before the game at newly named Tom Hoke Field. "It’s just all about the blocks that we got all night. That’s all that we needed. The offensive line did a great job and coach just called the plays and we made them happen," Henry added.
Make them happen, indeed.
Henry moved the chains on numerous downs and scored the second Rome touchdown on a 5-yard scamper into the end zone to put the hosts’ ahead, 14-0.
The fleet-footed senior, who has rushed for 350 yards off 58 carries this season, also brought the Black Knights to first and goal on their first drive when he broke a 14 yard run off an option play to set up a 5-yard TD from junior tailback Rich Stapleton on the next play.
Playing mainly an I-formation set on the night instead of their patented double wing back formation, the Black Knights’ rushers were able to follow their lead blockers and kept the chains moving against the Bulldogs, which dropped to 1-5 in the league and 2-5 overall.
Rome averaged 4.3 yards per carry and ran the ball 47 times on the night.
"We changed our formation and the formation is looking good now," said Henry. "When we had the wings it was hard to run the ball because people knew what we were doing, but now we are running out of the I-formation now and we just hit the middle. It’s not easy for people to know what play we are running," he added.
Stapleton also caught two passes for 43 yards and hauled in a 35-yard TD pass from senior signal caller Kyle Hash, who completed 4-of-11 passes for 65 yards and a TD. Hash also ran the ball 10 times for 49 yards and scored on a 34-yard burst down the sidelines weaving through traffic to put the Romans’ ahead 21-0 at the half.
The quick slate TD pass to Stapleton running over the middle put RFA up, 28-0 at the start of the third quarter.
"We pretty much could do what we wanted on offense tonight," said second-year RFA coach Ted Swavely.
"I thought we did a great job at running the ball early on and once we got going and threw the zero ball to Stapleton we really sealed the game on them. It was good and it was nice to get those kinds of wins for the kids. We got a little bit of a break and a little breather at the end before we get going for playoffs," he added.
Rome, which snapped a two-game losing streak after falling to previously unbeaten league rivals Baldwinsville and the Christian Brothers Academy, moved to 4-2 in league play and 4-3 overall. The Black Knights will face Class AA-2 second-seeded Proctor High in the quarterfinals round of the playoffs next weekend at D’Alessandro Stadium in Utica.
Proctor clinched the second seed and home field advantage following their 22-20 victory over visiting league foe Corcoran on Friday night. The game time will be finalized during Sunday’s Section III seeding meeting.
The Black Knights’ defense controlled the line of scrimmage and really tamed the Bulldogs’ offense during a penalty-filled game that got chippy at times and didn’t wrap up until after 10 p.m., more than three hours following the opening kickoff.
Senior linebacker Charlie Zonnevylle led the team with 10 total tackles — his fourth double digit tackle total in a game this season — senior Dan Secor and Stapleton each had eight tackles, senior lineman Mike Phillips had a sack and five tackles, and senior defensive back Josh Royce also had three tackles and intercepted a pass.
Despite constant pressure all night, Bulldogs starting quarterback Jamar Adams managed to throw for 235 yards on 17-of-36 passing and rushed for 51 yards on 18 carries.
Freshman Tyquon Hightower, who was called up from the junior varsity level this week, caught six balls for 114 yards, and had eight tackles, recovered a fumble and had an interception on defense. Defensive back Lloyd Colton led the team with 10 tackles.
The undisciplined guests made 10 penalties for 96 yards, including four unsportsmanlike penalties during the course of the game.
The Bulldogs scored their first touchdown on a 44 yard halfback pass from Derrick Gore to Adams at the 5:06 mark in the third quarter.
They later scored on the last play of the game before time expired on an Adams 5-yard TD burst up the middle to end the game.
Everything else, the Black Knights’ tenacious defense handled.
"First of all we needed a little confidence booster after the two losses. We needed that win," said the tri-captain Zonnevylle, who leads the team with 75 tackles this season.
"We know we’re a good football team, but we have minor setbacks in each game that we need to overcome and we don’t. We overcame them tonight, that’s all it’s about. Our defense really comes to play, so when we get some points we’re a tough team to beat," he added.
"We just have to keep the offense going."
And as for Proctor next week?
"We’re kind of excited, that’s kind of the team that we wanted. We wanted another shot at them," said Swavely. "We know what they do and what they’re about. We know what we’re going to do against them defensively and offensively, so we’re excited about it really."
Proctor defeated RFA, 24-21, on the second week of the season in Utica. For the Black Knights to avoid the same fate, they will have to continue to pound the football, play solid defense and limit their turnovers.
"It’s going to be a good game, a big game too," said Henry. "It’s really going to come down to who makes more mistakes because we both can move the ball and make plays. It’s just all about mistakes. When we come together and play as a unit, we can do anything and I think it’s going to be hard to stop us. We have to come strong. We have to come harder than them.".
Hard-hitting Rome linebacker Zonnevylle was even quicker and more direct with his thoughts against the Raiders next week.
"We’re ready for them, that’s all I’m going to say. We’re ready for them," he said.