The tables have turned.
Rowan County broke a two-game losing streak to Mason County, including a 51-16 blowout loss to the Royals last year, with a strong running game and two big fourth-down conversions in the first half to come away with a 47-13 victory on Friday.
“We started this from the get go of rebuilding this program from the bottom. We knew we were going to take our licks and wounds early on the first year, but we’ve got a group of guys that are coming out and had a winning culture in the middle school, so we were young,” said Rowan County coach Kelly Ford. “These guys are starting to build and starting to turn the corner on some things that’ll help getting us better and help getting this program turned around.”
The Royals received the opening kickoff and faced third down, but quarterback Carson Brammer broke free for a 26-yard run. The junior fumbled at the end of the play, giving Rowan County the ball on their own 37.
The Vikings used a 10-play drive – all on the ground – to take a 7-0 lead when Jacob McDaniel ran the ball in from the 2-yard line.
Mason County struggled to get going on the ground – a successful spot with Seth Chambers last week against Fleming County – and fumbled again on their next possession. The Royals picked up only 36 yards of offense on the ground in the first half and 55 in the game.
“I think it was three things,” said Mason County coach Jonathan Thomas. “They do a good job at what they do up front. They’re a tough team to block, shooting gaps, putting as many guys at the point of attack as they do. Seth wasn’t 100 percent healthy and we are young and inexperienced. We know that. It’s every week. We’ll get that part figured out. The other two things – I’m taking nothing away from them. They’re very, very tough to block in what they do and I knew it would be tough to run the ball against them.”
The Vikings, on the other hand, used a balanced attack of McDaniel and Cole Wallace. The two combined for 130 first-half rushing yards.
“I said all along that we’ve got four solid backs and if one goes down, we can go to another one. That’s something Rowan County hasn’t had in a while,” said Ford. “I know early on in the 2010, 2011, 2012 years we had kids like that, but it is a great plus with the type of wing-T offense we run along with a little shotgun. It helps us out just calling on the next one.”
Rowan County faced fourth-and-4 on their own 34-yard line midway through the second quarter, but decided to run a fake instead of actually punting. Dakota Knipp took the snap and ran 7 yards for the first down. The drive resulted in a 14-0 Rowan County lead when McDaniel ran one into the end zone from 13 yards out.
“We’ve got to focus and lock in. We’ve got to. I had just yelled, ‘Look out for the fake’ and we were just not in a spot to make a play. We’ve got to learn from those types of things and you’ve just got to get off the field when you’re supposed to get off the field,” said Thomas. “Those are things that kind of win you and lose you the ball game.”
It was another big fourth down play for the Vikings that gave them all the momentum heading into the second half. With 3.5 seconds left in the second quarter, Wallace used a 5-yard run to put Rowan County up, 21-0.
“We just wanted to keep grinding. We had an opportunity. We saw some stuff on film this week that we knew that we had an opportunity to run those plays and it was just perfect timing of calling. They ran it to execution the way we needed to do it,” said Ford.
The Vikings were able to keep the ground attack going early into the third quarter, eating nearly seven minutes off the clock with a 13-play drive that was capped off by a 6-yard run by Wallace for a 28-0 advantage.
While the ground game couldn’t get going for the Royals, their aerial attack showed some bright signs.
Brammer completed six-of-nine passes for 62 yards in the first half and finished the game completing 12-of-23 passes for 171 yards. With 2:21 to play in the third quarter, Brammer found Jake Swolsky for a 12-yard score.
Swolsky, playing in his first game for the Royals, finished with three receptions for 37 yards. Xylon Frey, also playing in his first game, caught one pass for 7 yards.
“We knew those kids could help us. It’s just getting them more reps and more comfortable to kind of do what they do,” said Thomas. “I told Carson I was proud of him. [He was] running for his life tonight. We’ve got to get his feet a little calmer in the pocket when he’s got a little pressure and stand tall and deliver.
“I think we’ve got some promise,” said Thomas. “We’ve got to make that promise come true, but I think we’ve got a chance to be OK.”
The touchdown to Swolsky was answered with a 94-yard kickoff return from Zeke Ferguson and Rowan County added another touchdown with 8:24 to play in the fourth quarter on a 26-yard run from Wallace that put the Vikings ahead, 41-7.
Wallace finished with 100 yards on 18 carries, while McDaniel had 127 yards on 14 carries.
Mason County scored their second touchdown with under five minutes to play when Brammer hit Mason Baxter with an 11-yard touchdown pass, before Rowan County capped off the victory with a 4-yard quarterback keeper from Tabor Wright.
Rowan County improves to 2-1 and will host Fleming County next Friday in a 7:30 p.m. game.
“We’ve got to stay positive. It’s a grind because we go 10 straight. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up. We’ve just got to keep them healthy and continue to grow with them,” said Ford. “It’s a new culture. That’s what we’ve been preaching since day one – changing the culture. We had great fan support here tonight and the kids are excited. It’s going to be a rivalry game. We love playing Fleming County, so it’ll be a battle. It always is.”
Mason County falls to 1-2 and will host Morgan County in a 7:30 p.m. homecoming game next week. The Royals will follow it with a bye week before opening district play at Scott.
VIKINGS 47, ROYALS 13
(RC) McDaniel 2-yard run (Besant kick) 5:21
(RC) McDaniel 13-yard run (Besant kick) 3:37
(RC) Wallace 5-yard run (Besant kick) 0:03.5
(RC) Wallace 6-yard run (Besant kick) 5:06
(MC) Brammer 12-yard pass to Swolsky (Gilligan kick) 2:21
(RC) Ferguson 94-yard kickoff return (Kick failed) 2:07
(RC) Wallace 26-yard run (Besant kick) 8:24
(MC) Brammer 11-yard pass to Baxter (Kick failed) 4:58
(RC) Wright 4-yard run (Kick failed) 3:31
RECORDS: Rowan County 2-1, Mason County 1-2