Vernon — Fans of defense and punting enjoyed the first half of the annual “Battle of Route 83″ between the football teams of Rockville and Ellington.
The teams went into halftime with a 0-0 tie, but the Rams prevailed, 27-7 with all points scored in the last two quarters.
The first half highlight would have been a 70-yard touchdown run by Rockville’s Travon Edmonson, but it was called back on an offensive holding penalty.
On the second half kickoff, Ellington returned the ball for 50 yards, but fumbled it near the sideline, giving Rockville possession. A few plays later, Edmonson got into the end zone, with no flags, putting the Rams up, 6-0 (extra point attempt failed).
Three minutes later, Ellington quarterback Zachary Killoran threw an interception to Rockville’s Hunter Ford, who returned it and scored, stretching the Rams’ lead to 12-0, after a failed 2-point conversion run attempt by Deshaun Perry was stopped at the 1-inch line.
With 10:57 to go in the fourth, Ellington got its only score of the game with a gadget play - a touchdown pass from running back Dante Mangiafico to Killoran, making the score 12-7.
With 6:39 remaining in the game, Perry, also usually a running back, threw a touchdown pass to Juneil Powell, increasing Rockville’s lead to 20-7, after Perry’s run for a conversion was successful.
Rockville sealed the deal with a touchdown pass from Perry on a fourth down play with 3:32 remaining, this time to Hason Green.
“One or two plays swung that whole game,” said Rockville coach Erick Knickerbocker, addressing both teams at the customary awards presentation after the game.
“Hopefully, we see you guys again, and hopefully its for a state championship,” he said to the Knights.
Ellington coach Keith Tautkus, formerly an assistant for Rockville, named Mangiafico the team’s MVP, and the Austin Tautkus Teammate award went to Killoran. Rockville’s Teammate award went to James Wheeler, and the MVP for the Rams was Perry.
“We feel good,” Powell said. “It was a team win. We all worked together. We know that this is an emotional game, and we just stuck together. We have a full head of steam going into the playoffs. We’re ready.”
Tautkus said that the fumble on the kickoff should have been called down by contact, and that may have been the turning point in the game.
“He was tackled by his shoestring, he hit the ground and the ball came out,” he said. “They should have got that call right. Still, we didn’t play well in the second half. We played well in the first half. Then we had a bad throw on the pick-six. We came back and scored a touchdown, and we thought we were in pretty good shape.”
Tautkus said he, as well as his coaches and players, knew the Rams were going to call a halfback pass, but couldn’t stop Perry from connecting with Powell.
“We gave up the halfback pass. We knew it was coming, but we didn’t play it well,” he said. “We didn’t do enough to win. It was those little things that add up and turn the tide one way or another.”
“This is a huge win for us,” Knickerbocker said. “We had some ups and downs this year. I tried not to be emotional going into this game. Keith and I were texting this morning, and we were both kind of crying. He’s like a father to me. Him coming over and helping me start here was awesome. Him leaving really hurt, but I knew it was the right move for him, and I’m really proud of him for what he’s done in Ellington to really turn things around and make this game really meaningful.”
“We knew this would be a battle,” Knickerbocker said. “We knew we’d need to make a couple more plays than them, and that’s what we did.”
At press time, Rockville (8-2) was projected to finish third in the Class M rankings, and likely to host a playoff game. Ellington (7-3) is the seventh ranked team.
For more information, including playoff schedules, visit www.ciacsports.com.