TUMWATER — Up by just two against a scrappy Black Hills squad at the half, and with a nearly torrential rain falling on an already soaked field, Rochester needed a drive.
That’s exactly what the Warriors got, with senior tandem Landon Hawes and Talon Betts leading the way, but it was nearly for naught. Facing fourth-and-goal from the 11, and with the Wolves defense loading up to stop Betts, Hawes faked it to the speedy tailback and weaved and crushed his way through the Wolves defense to put the Warriors ahead 10 in the third.
It will be just one of the moments Warriors head coach AJ Easley remembers from a memorable night, as Rochester beat the Wolves, 24-22 in Tumwater.
“It was Landon’s turn to step up tonight and he absolutely played his tail off,” Easley said. “That run down there in the end zone was probably one that I’ll watch on film and it’ll bring a tear to my eye. It was fourth down, and he knew and he’s not the biggest guy in the world but he wasn’t going to be stopped. It’s pretty special.”
But the game wasn’t won there. Far from it. With no scores heading into the fourth, Black Hills put together a strong drive after a zany fourth down conversion that saw the Wolves punter throw a first down pass after initially dropping the ball.
The Wolves (0-3) were threatening, down by 10 and with some serious momentum. Still, after some questionable pass interference calls near the goal line, the Warriors (3-0) defense held strong and stopped the Wolves on fourth down with 5:39 to play.
But a muffed snap exchange in the downpour saw Black Hills’ offense take the field again on the goal line. Finally, after over three minutes of play, the Wolves broke through on a touchdown pass thrown by Jaxsen Beck, but with just 2:18 left to play, it was too little, too late.
“It felt like the whole fourth quarter was played inside the ten down here,” Easley said. “They just continued to come after it and come after it. Couldn’t be prouder of that effort.”
The Warriors third straight win to begin the season is their best start in years, and though it was a sloppy contest in windy and rainy conditions, Friday night’s win meant a lot to Rochester’s seniors.
“I don’t remember the last time that’s happened,” Hawes said of Rochester’s perfect start. “It’s awesome. We’ve worked so hard from summer to now, to see the hard work pay off is amazing.”
But it wasn’t without its trials. Black Hills got off to a quick start after a lineman was ejected early on both sides due to a scuffle. The Wolves’ Johnnie Stallings found the end zone twice in the second quarter, from short distance and from 65 yards. But a resilient Warriors team found an answer when Betts took his first kick return to the house to get Rochester on the board, and another long drive gave it the lead heading into the half.
After Hawes improbable touchdown run, and Rochester’s defensive performance, the Warriors are still perfect.
“It’s not without adversity,” Easley said. “We had guys go out all over the place, we had kids playing on the line that hadn’t played on the line all year. Whatever the team needed. It’s a game that in past years we probably fold up on, and they didn’t. They didn’t fold and stayed with the gameplan and stayed after it.”
Though the season is still young, Rochester is flying high, and after a couple of tough seasons, the Warriors’ seniors know what this kind of start means to their team.
“It feels amazing,” Hawes said. “Last year we lost on a last second touchdown, and now it's like, to be on the same field in the rain and it's probably midnight right now, but to come out with the win, it’s the best feeling ever.”
Rochester will host Shelton next Friday, and Black Hills will head out to Centralia to play the winless Tigers.