Rochester Adams Highlanders 26
Romeo Bulldogs 17
A steady rain started two hours before game time and continued all night long. The wet ball was dropped on the kickoff and by the time Chase Kareta retrieved it, the defense was on him at the Highlander 5. QB Zach Soldan got them out of trouble with a 10 yard keeper on read-option left; left tackle Hunter Drobnich’s block freed him up and WR Ben Luci sealed the corner downfield. They ran the same play on first down from the 15, but Romeo stopped Soldan for a 1 yard loss. Soldan handed off to wing-back Cole Patritto on second down, but he was dragged down for no gain. Soldan found Patritto on a 15 yard out-pattern to convert the first down up to the 29; 16 yard pass play. Fullback Stephen Roncelli took the next carry for 3 yards through the A gap, then it was Patritto on a jet sweep to the left for 3 more. 3rd-and-4, and Roncelli picked up 3 to set up 4th-and-1. Kareta took the handoff and pounded it over left tackle off the blocks of Justin Leonard, Roncelli, and WR Vincent Gray; he got 2 yards to move the chains to the 40 for a new set of downs. Kareta picked up 3 on jet sweep right on the first down carry. Then Soldan faked the jet and took it up the middle for 2. On 3rd-and-5 Kareta was stopped after 1 to set up 4th-and-4. Soldan didn’t handle the shotgun snap cleanly, it got by him, and he was fortunate to recover it and scramble for 10 yards just to get back close to the line of scrimmage. Romeo took over on downs at the Highlander 46.
Romeo came up with a big play on first down. They threw a middle screen to their fleet footed wideout Nathan Goralski, who started wide right, took the pass in the middle of field on the line of scrimmage and scampered down the left side for big yardage before Patritto knocked him out at the Highlander 16. 38 yard gain on a nicely designed and executed play. Goralski took it down to the 6 for 10 more on a jet sweep; Kareta chopped him down after the Highlanders failed to contain the edge. Romeo punched it in on the next play from 6 yards out around the left side, fullback Malik Jones took it in. 7-0 Romeo after the PAT and Romeo had the early momentum.
Highlander ball from their 19. Soldan picked up 5 on read-option right behind blocks of Leonard, Patritto, and Kareta. Roncelli was stopped after 2, then Soldan picked up 3 for the Highlander first down at the 29. Soldan carried again, but for only 1 on read-option left. The Bulldog defensive unit, their front 7 specifically, was a formidable group, and they were playing well. Patritto was stopped for no gain to set up 3rd-and-9. Soldan took the shotgun snap and ran a QB draw to the visiting side; he got the edge and picked up 10 for the first down at the 40. Romeo sniffed out the jet sweep right, and dropped Kareta for a 5 yard loss. Patritto got the call on a counter sweep left behind great blocking from Drobnich, guard Jarred McPherson, center Cal Bowers, and Kareta on the edge; he darted for 8 to set up 3rd-and-7.
Soldan attempted to pass to Patritto on an out pattern to the right, but he and Vincent Gray were in the same area and Gray’s man slid off him to contest the pass; incomplete. On 4th-and-7, on a play call the Highlanders might want to have back, they handed to Kareta on a draw-play to the right. He was stacked up after only a couple, and for the second time in as many possessions, Adams turned it over on downs on their side of the field.
Romeo gave it to Goralski again on jet sweep right towards the Adams sideline, but Vincent Gray held the edge, and Stephen Roncelli raked him down for a 1 yard TFL. Goralski carried for 7 on second down before LB Ryan Rifenberg and Gray ran him out at the Highlander 37. Rifenberg made the next stop on fullback Brock Horne after 2 yards to set up 4th-and-1. Romeo was able to convert as they got Adams to come across the neutral zone for an offsides call on a hard count to move the sticks down to the 30. Rifenberg and DE Reed Vogt dragged Horne down after 3 yards on first down. Then Jones carried for good yardage around left tackle; LB Garret Lineberger, Roncelli, and Luci combined on the tackle after his 9 yard run got it down to the 18. Gray and Lineberger stopped Goralski after 6 yards on a jet sweep right. On 2nd-and-4 from the 12, Bailey Kamego got the handoff on a jet-sweep left, he found the edge and took it into the south end zone. 14-0 Bulldogs after the PAT, and the Romeo faithful, who had been tailgating in the rain since 5:00, had plenty to be excited about in the visiting bleachers.
Adams started from their 38. Kareta picked up 2. Then Soldan hit Gray on a quick stop route on the right side; he picked up 6 yards to set up 3rd-and-2. Soldan kept it on read-option left and burst through an opening created by Hunter Drobnich on the clear-out and Kareta on the chip-down; he made the safety miss on the way to a 15 yard rip. First down at the Romeo 39. Soldan was sacked for a 3 yard loss on first down before he dropped back again and ran the QB draw up the middle for 12 yards behind Bowers and McPherson. On 3rd-and-1, Kareta got in behind three big brown bears – Bowers, Mitchell, and Leonard – who mauled the Bulldog defenders in front of them and allowed Kareta to hammer his way for 5 yards. First down at the Romeo 25. Roncelli got to the edge around the left and picked up 5, then he fought for 2 more tough yards up the middle. Then Kareta, again behind Bowers, Mitchell, and Leonard, zipped through the four-hole for 5 yards and another Highlander first down at the 13. Roncelli picked up 2 on first down, then got stopped for no gain. On 3rd-and-8 from the 11, Soldan threw a perfect pass, just over the linebacker’s hands and into the arms of Cole Patritto on an out-pattern. Patritto made a nice leaping catch on the contested ball in the end zone. It was an 11 yard scoring strike, and after Ben Patton booted the PAT, it was 14-7 Romeo.
Romeo got a great return plus the benefit of a facemask call to put them on a short field again. This was their 3rd possession of the game, and all of them started on the Adams side of the field, this time at the Highlander 46. Reed Vogt got pressure on Romeo QB Jack Wendt on the first down pass; Roncelli knocked it down on the attempted middle screen. Then they tried Goralski on the jet sweep right. Rifenberg held the edge, then helped Vogt bring him down with help from Gray after a 1 yard gain. Same play again, and this time LB Cameron Kelly held the edge. Lineberger, Vogt, and Mitchell teamed up to stop him after only a yard. On 4th down, they tried to get Malik Jones outside, but Rifenberg made the tackle with help from defensive end Conner Hess and Kareta after only a yard.
Adams took over on downs but with less than 10 seconds to play in the half. They tried to run a pass play, but Soldan was sacked and lost the ball. Romeo recovered with no time left on the clock and that was the end of the half.
The Bulldogs got it first, starting at their 30. Malik Jones got it on the quit-hitter up the middle. Roncelli and Kareta made the stop after a gain of 10. Goralski tried to run wide right, but Rifenberg and Gray hemmed him in, and Vogt and Kareta brought him down after 2. Wendt tried to bootleg right, but Rifenberg slowed him up in the backfield before Lineberger and Hess made the tackle for no gain. Then Vogt broke down the pocket and flushed Wendt, who was only able to scramble for 2 before he was dropped by Hess with help from Rifenberg. 4th-and-6 and Romeo had to punt it away.
Adams took over at their 9 yard line after a good Romeo punt. Soldan looked for Gray on a stop-route, but it was tipped at the line, incomplete. Soldan got dragged down for a 3 yard loss on second down trying to get around the left edge on a read-option play. 3rd-and-12 on their own 6. The Highlanders needed a big play, and they got one. Zach Soldan took the shotgun snap and put it up top from his own goal line. He hit Ben Luci in stride on the deep-post in the clear behind the defense. Luci brought it in at the 33 and turned on the jets, taking it all the way down to the Bulldog 20 where Goralski was able to make a TD saving tackle. Huge 74 yard catch and run, and the Adams bleachers exploded. Stephen Roncelli got the give on the sweep left, he slipped three tackles in the backfield and drug a defender for 4 yards after contact on the way to a 6 yard gain. Then Roncelli got the quick trap handoff behind blocks from McPherson, Bowers, and Mitchell. Again, he carried tacklers for 4 yards after contact as they finally rode him down at the 6. 8 yard gain, first and goal. Chase Kareta got the pitch right. Gray and Roncelli got blocks on edge, Mitchell pulled and led him through the six-hole for 5 yards down to the one. Kareta again got the carry and he knifed into the line behind the wide bodies of Cole Mitchell and Justin Leonard. Touchdown Highlanders. Tie ballgame, 14-14, after Patton converted the point after.
Romeo took over on their own 36, and it didn’t take long for the Highlander defense to make a statement. Malik Jones got the carry going around the right. Rifenberg set the edge and Roncelli was there for the fill. He stood him up at the line of scrimmage, as he spun him down, Vincent Gray closed like a missile. Gray’s helmet hit the ball on contact and forced the fumble; perfect technique. For the team-leading 5th time this season, Cole Mitchell was in the right place to recover the fumble. Highlander ball, going back the other way. The soaking wet Highlander faithful thundered their approval. Huge play by the Highlander defensive.
Highlanders marching north at the Bulldog 33. Soldan ball faked to Roncelli, and tucked it in behind Justin Leonard for a 5 yard gain. Cole Patritto got it next. He went left around the McPherson block, under the clear-out by Kareta, following Hunter Drobnich for what appeared to be first down yardage to the 23. But the ball was spotted back at the 24 to set up 3rd-and-1. Soldan attempted to pass and was pressured by Malik Jones and Cole Karwowicz. He threw an ill-advised pass down the middle of the field, but Patritto was able to go up and bat it down, incomplete. On 4th-and-1, Kareta appeared to dive over Bowers and Vogt in the A gap for the required yard at the Bulldog 23, but the ball was spotted short by a foot. Romeo took over as many Adams fans loudly made their opinion on the questionable spots known. The Highlander momentum was temporarily halted, and the hopeful Bulldog crowd eagerly sounded their approval.
It would be up to the defense again to stop an explosive Romeo offense that averaged 36 points per game during the regular season, including the 61-burger they slapped on their rival Macomb Dakota. On first down Wendt tried to find wideout Ryan Heimbuch up the middle seam but Ben Luci was there to go up and defend the 50-50 ball; incomplete. 2nd-and-10. They ran one of their signature plays, a counter-action end-around with an inside hand-off to Kamego. Lineberger had the inside fit, Rifenberg had the outside contain; they both drilled him. 2 yard gain. On 3rd-and-8, Wendt had trouble with the snap. As he was falling on the ball in the backfield, a brown and gold blur in the form of the 6’3” Reed Vogt shot in and somehow recovered the ball. Highlander ball, their defense again delivering a short field opportunity.
On first down at the Romeo 18, the Highlander offensive line put on a blocking clinic. Roncelli lined up in a single back formation. As he took the handoff going off tackle left, Cole Mitchell pulled from his right guard position to meet the DE in the seven-hole: bang. Roncelli cut it up inside him as, a half-second later, Drobnich and McPherson drilled two linebackers center-mass 3 yards downfield: bang-bang. Roncelli accelerated around the heavyweights into the secondary. He outran the safety, cut inside a perfect downfield seal-block from Luci, and high-stepped it into the North end zone for the go-ahead Highlander touchdown. 20-14 Adams, their first lead of the game after the PAT was wide.
The Bulldogs got it back at their own 37 looking to take the lead back. They gave it to Jones up the middle and Lineberger and Kareta met him after 4. Jones got it again going downhill up the middle, he rumbled for 11 yards, 9 of which came after contact; Roncelli got him with help from Patritto. First down at the Highlander 48. Malik Jones got his 3rd straight carry, Roncelli got help from Rifenberg to hold him to 4. Kamego got it on the jet sweep left, he got 5 before Kareta and Kelly pushed him out to set up 3rd-and-1 at the 39. They went back to Jones, who cut back right after bursting through off left tackle and carried it down to the 16 where Patritto brought him down. 23 yard romp for the Romeo fullback. They went back to Kamego on jet-sweep left; Kareta and Rifenberg brought him down after 2, 2nd-and-8 at the 14. Wendt handed it to Jones off left tackle where Mitchell hit him in the hole and Kelly brought him down for no gain.
Now Romeo had 3rd-and-8 from the Adams 14 going towards the north end zone. They ran jet-sweep right to Goralski, but Ryan Rifenberg was there to contain and tackle him for a two yard loss. Now faced with 4th-and-10, Romeo elected to attempt a field goal. Dominic Nikprelovic was right down the middle from 33 yards out, and Romeo had cut the lead to 3. 20-17, Adams.
Highlanders marched south from their 29. Soldan kept it for 4 on first down. Then Roncelli carried 4 tacklers for 5, all after contact; 3rd-and-1 at the 38. Roncelli got it again and got in behind Mitchell and Leonard for 2 off right tackle. First down at the 40. Soldan hit Gray on the numbers on the stop-route for 6 yards. Then Patritto got it going left behind the pulling Mitchell, following the fully-loaded dump-truck known as Hunter Drobnich for 6 more and a first down into Bulldog territory at the 48. Soldan was back under center, taking as much time off the clock as possible between each play, and demonstrating sure hands in the continuing steady rain. Roncelli took the handoff from the single back formation and gained two, yet the ball was spotted back at the 48 for no gain; no possible explanation. On 2nd-and-10, Soldan ball-faked to Roncelli, then pulled it and raced around the right side. He outran inside pursuit, cut inside the block of Vincent Gray, and gashed the Bulldogs for 18 yards before Kamego could pull him down at the 30. Then they ran the same play to left side. Drobnich walled off the edge and Soldan cut it up the middle for 8 yards to the 22. On 2nd-and-2 Chase Kareta got it going downhill toward the right side, a pulling Cole Mitchell led the way, demonstrating ridiculous speed for a big man. Kareta put his right foot in the ground and cut up the Highlander sideline like a surgeon inside the upfield block of Vincent Gray. He put his trademark stiff arm on a defender at the 17 and got seven more yards. He got pushed out at the 10 after a 12 yard rip where the frustrated stiff-arm recipient ripped him down late for half-the-distance personal foul, setting up Adams with first and goal from the 5. The Highlander faithful went crazy. Roncelli got it on the pitch left and tried to make it to the visitors corner of the end zone, but Brock Horne jumped on his back and rode him down at the 2 yard line. Kareta got it next and got a yard and a half down to the half yard line to set up 3rd-and-goal; the clock continued to tick. Kareta got it and dove over Bowers, Mitchell, and Leonard on the right. Touchdown Highlanders. PAT was no good, but Adams had taken a 26-17 advantage with most of the 4th quarter gone after the time-consuming 12-play drive.
Romeo took it at their 39 needing a quick score. Wendt tried to fine Kamego in the right flat, but Kareta was on the spot, diving and knocking it away. On second down, Wendt threw an almost perfect ball off the fingertips of his big tight end Eric Fraeyman down the middle seam; incomplete. 3rd-and-10. Wendt was able spin out of a near sack by Reed Vogt and as Rifenberg and Kelly closed in on him, he threw it away wide right to set up 4th down. Wendt hung in the pocket as Rifenberg brought pressure and delivered a 29 yard strike. He found a streaking Ryan Heimbuch who was well covered by Kareta. It was a perfectly thrown ball by Wendt and a nice catch by Heimbuch on the big 4th-and-10 play, and Romeo wasn’t dead yet. 1st-and-10 at the Highlander 32. Wendt took the shotgun snap and was again under pressure as Rifenberg and Vogt came off opposite edges and met at the QB who had to step up to avoid the sack and deliver the pass running forward in the pocket right before Conner Hess drilled him. The throw was a little behind intended receiver Fraeyman; Cole Patritto was there and made a great diving interception. Another huge play by the Highlander defense, who dominated the second half. They limited the Bulldogs to only 4 first downs after the intermission.
Adams ball at their 25 looking to salt it away. Kareta took the handoff running right behind the block of pulling guard Reed Vogt. Patritto provided the outside seal block and Kareta ripped off a 15 yard gain up to the 40. Roncelli followed Bowers and McPherson for 3 yards up the gut. Soldan got 3 more on a read-option keep around the right before Kareta got it going to the right side again. This time Jarred McPherson pulled and had the key block, Gray took care of the corner, and Kareta knifed them for 14 yards and a first down into Bulldog territory at the 40 yard line. Romeo was out of time outs, and there was 2:00 left. Patritto got one yard around the left before Roncelli bulled his way for 6 between Calin Bowers and McPherson. Now under a minute and the Adams fans were celebrating. Soldan let the clock tick and then kept it for 2, let it run down again, and handed to Kareta on the final play, who took it for 7 more to close out another great night of Highlander football.
The Highlanders, #8 in the final regular season Division 1 AP rankings, will now travel to face #1 ranked and unbeaten Utica Eisenhower in the district final on November 3rd.