KENT: If Kent Roosevelt wanted to win its third consecutive Portage Trail Conference-Metro Division championship, the Rough Riders knew they would have to stop dynamic Norton senior running back Jake Fling on Friday night in Kent.
Fling, who came into the game with 1,652 rushing yards, gained 121 more but 53 of them came on one play. He was held to just 32 yards in the first half, allowing the Rough Riders (9-1, 6-0) to get out to an early lead and set the tone defensively in a 21-12 win over the Panthers (8-2, 5-1).
“That’s a good football team we played tonight,” Norton coach John Tanksley said. “Our line did the best they could. Fling had his moments and he’s going to get his yards somehow or another. We just couldn’t run him a whole lot tonight because they were stuffing him up.”
Opposite of Fling was Riders senior running back Marcus Caddiell who had one of the better games of his career, gaining 172 yards on 26 carries.
Caddiell helped to set up the Rough Riders’ first touchdown late in the first quarter with a 40-yard run that would have been a touchdown had Panthers defensive back Quinn Ivy not made a shoestring tackle on the 9-yard line.
Four plays later, Riders quarterback Dustin Monaco connected with junior receiver Luther Fortson for a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to put the Riders ahead 7-0.
That was the only score of the half and the Panthers, who had turned more to their passing game in the first half, went into the locker room at halftime knowing they would have to establish the running game to stand a chance.
It looked like they might do that when Fling took the second play of the third quarter 53 yards down to the Roosevelt 10-yard line. Three plays later, Drake Gable caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Cuda. Robert Moore blocked the point-after and Roosevelt led 7-6.
However, Caddiell continued to be the more consistent rusher, with some help from his offensive line which repeatedly opened up huge holes in the second half.
The Rough Riders set up their second touchdown early in the fourth quarter by running the ball to Caddiell on eight of 11 plays. Then, with the Panthers expecting the run, Monaco found Fortson for another touchdown, this one for 28 yards on a full-extension diving catch that put the Riders ahead 14-6.
“That second touchdown catch he had was really something,” Roosevelt coach John Nemec said. “The first one was, too. He must have gone 5 feet off the ground. He’s a great football player.”
The Panthers quickly responded with Cuda completing 4-of-4 passes for 51 yards on the ensuing drive to set up a 16-yard touchdown run by Fling. The Panthers went for a 2-point conversion that would have tied the score, but Corey Spicer came up with a big sack to keep the Riders ahead 14-12.
Fortson then came up big for the Riders one last time on a 33-yard reception on third-and-6, saving a three-and-out in their own territory that would have given the ball back to the Panthers with plenty of time to score.
Caddiell later scored a 6-yard touchdown that put the game away and solidified Roosevelt’s spot in the Division II playoffs.
“I’m really excited for the playoffs,” Caddiell said. “I don’t know who we’re going to play yet but I know whoever it is we’re going to play our hearts out no matter what and leave it all out on the field.”
The third consecutive league championship is a first in Roosevelt history.