ROCKWOOD — A 14-yard touchdown scramble in overtime by Cole West propelled Oneida to a 13-12 win here in Friday’s season opener.
West’s score capped a thrilling game that saw both teams given new life when it seemed that the game was in serious jeopardy.
Rockwood had scored one possession earlier but failed on a two-point conversion try, leaving the door open for the Indians to win the game.
Oneida, which entered the game looking for a way to replace 16 starters from last year’s District 4-A championship team, led much of the night thanks to two Bryce Couch field goals — kicks that would prove to be Oneida’s only points in regulation.
“People think the kicking game isn’t important, (but) it’s a third of the game,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said afterwards.
Couch, a junior, connected on a 29-yard field goal in the first quarter, and added a 36-yard boot in the third quarter, and the Indians led 6-0 heading into the final period.
But Rockwood, which was equally young and inexperienced due to graduation and transfers, would battle back. On the first play of the fourth quarter, quarterback Jarrod Naerman scrambled for a 17-yard touchdown to tie the game. However, Nathan Briley’s extra point attempt was wide left, a play that would prove crucial down the stretch.
Oneida turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but Rockwood was unable to move it and punted it back to Oneida. Then, with six minutes remaining, disaster appeared to strike for the Indians.
A fumble on a faulty center-quarterback exchange was recovered by Rockwood’s Tyler Brown, and the Tigers were in business at Oneida’s 28-yard-line.
Rockwood steadily advanced the ball inside the 10-yard-line, when it suffered a disaster of its own — two consecutive 5-yard penalties that turned what was a third-and-two at the 5-yard-line into a third-and-12 at the 15-yard-line.
Forced out of their preferred running game, the Tigers looked to the air on third down, and junior defensive end Jacob Lambert recorded his second sack of the night. On fourth down, West batted the ball away in the end zone, and Rockwood turned the ball over on downs with 3:21 to play.
The Indians then put together one of their best drives of the evening, moving from their own 19-yard-line to Rockwood’s 19-yard-line. Junior wingback Jacob Adams, who finished with 110 yards rushing, had a key run of 16 yards, and halfback Jed Newport had a run of nine yards, and suddenly the Indians found themselves at midfield. West broke free for a 24-yard run to move the ball to the 22-yard-line with under a minute remaining, and another scramble set the Indians up just inside the 20 with 18 seconds to play and no timeouts.
However, Oneida elected to try one last attempt at the end zone, and Jared Malicoat came up with an interception at the goal line, sending the game to overtime.
Rockwood scored first in the extra session on a 5-yard run by Drake Long. But after the haphazard extra point attempt early in the fourth quarter, Rockwood coach John Webb elected to go for two, and a pass to the end zone fell incomplete, leaving the Tigers clinging to a 12-6 lead.
The Indians started their overtime possession from the 20-yard-line after two 5-yard penalties. Two runs set up Oneida with a third-and-goal from the 14-yard-line. West dropped back to pass, saw an opening on the left side and raced for the end zone, just diving inside the pylon for the score. Couch’s extra point attempt was good, and the Indians celebrated their first win in a season opener since 2008.
“I was so proud of our kids,” Lambert said. “They found a way to win. We bowed up and made plays when we had to. A lot of different players just found a way to make plays.”