SYRACUSE — Rome Free Academy scored a touchdown on its second offensive play of the season but by the end of the game against Nottingham Saturday in the Carrier Dome they were down 20-7 and starting quarterback Christopher Orton was out with a major shoulder injury.
The Black Knights played the Bulldogs as the first game of the 2019 National Football Foundation Kickoff Classic at the Dome. It was a non-league game for the two Class AA schools.
After RFA stymied the Nottingham offense on its first drive, there was a bad snap on the punt and the Knights tackled the punter at the 7-yard-line, giving Orton and the offense great field position. Orton carried the ball himself on the second play, going in from the seven for the score. Peter Sciortino's extra point kick was good and RFA led 7-0.
On the next Nottingham drive, RFA would recover a fumble near midfield but the drive stalled on fourth down at the Nottingham 25 and it was turned over on downs. The teams traded possessions until midway through the second quarter when Nottingham quarterback Jason Howard scrambled, was bottled up near the line and then bounced outside to the sideline and outran the RFA defense 77 yards, all the way to the end zone for the score. They tried a two-point conversion but the run failed and RFA led 7-6.
On the ensuing drive, RFA backup quarterback Keshawn Clark took over. Orton would soon appear on the sidelines with his left arm, his non-throwing arm, in a sling. He would not return to the game. RFA coach Jake DerCola said after the game that Orton had a shoulder injury, but that was all he knew at that point.
After an RFA punt, Nottingham drove from its 16 on a series of running plays until the Bulldogs were on the RFA 36. Howard hit Xavion Walker-Pickard for 22 yards and then Howard took it himself on the next play, running in from the 14 for his second rushing touchdown of the day. The extra point made it 13-7 Nottingham with 3:03 left in the first half, and they would not trail the rest of the game.
On the Bulldogs' first possession of the second half, they started on their own 18 and on second-and-four Jamel Nellons busted loose and was streaking for the end zone but was caught on the RFA 1-yard-line. Howard snuck in for the score two plays later. Another extra point and it was 20-7.
The RFA offense would end its last four drives with turnovers on downs.
DerCola said it was Clark's "first time out," and said it is "definitely a hard environment to have your first game experience with." He said he'd be working with Clark to get him more comfortable with the playbook, to see what plays he can build a game plan around. "We have to make the basic play."
Offensively, the plan was to spread the ball around and attack what tendencies the coaching staff could find. "The play was there to be made," he said, but the team was inconsistent. Late in the game, both teams were cramping up, which for RFA, he said, led to penalties from tired movements.
Defensively, "our focus was on" Howard. "We were there to make tackles," but Nottingham runners were breaking tackles.
Next up for RFA is Indian River at 7 p.m. Friday. The Warriors beat Norwich 53-27 in the last game of the Kickoff Classic.
DerCola said the team must "be mentally tough." He said of the loss: "We never gave up which is good. It's frustrating because there were plays to be made."