FOOTBALL: Critical matters: Rochester outslugs Troy in key OAA-Red showdown
Rochester Hills, MI – For a football program that has only started a season 2-0 only twice during the previous 20 years, style points are not an issue for Rochester. Finding ways to win football games is the mission.
The Falcons ventured down “Ugly Game Boulevard” Thursday at home and squeezed out a 13-7 victory over Troy in the Oakland Activities Association Red Division opener for both teams.
“I’ll take an ugly win, but we’ll take an ugly win over an ugly loss,” admitted Rochester coach Erik Vernon. Both Troy and Rochester (2-0, 1-0) were slated as teams to watch in a wide-open OAA Red Division race this season. Now it’s Rochester that is 2-0 for the first time since 2001 and for only the third time in 20 years, including the 1993 campaign — the last campaign before the formation of the OAA and Rochester’s last league championship season on the gridiron.
Down 7-6 at the half, Rochester scored the go-ahead and what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with 5:32 left in the third quarter. Jay Shakir, a transfer from Rochester Adams who did not play in the first half, scored on a 4-yard plunge up the middle and John Doroshewitz booted the extra point.
“We put together a couple of nice drives,” said Vernon. “We had a lot of guys contribute on both sides of the football. It was a team effort.”
Rochester grabbed a 6-0 lead on its first drive of the contest, capped by senior James Ward’s 35-yard sprint up the middle. Ward, who was recently cleared from an injury that kept him on the sidelines since the winter, finished with 71 yards on 13 carries. The blocked extra point enabled Troy to eventually take a 7-6 lead midway through the second quarter when Terrance Cherry scored on a 1-yard run on a fourth-and-inches play and Erich Hagan split the uprights for the extra point. Troy stalled a Rochester drive on the Colts’ 10-yard line inside a minute when Tommy Richardson popped the ball out after a 15-yard completion.
Doroshewitz finished the night 11-for-20 passing with Manny Mendoza snatching five passes from the air for 85 yards. Shakir added 32 yards on 12 carries for Rochester, which used five different ball carriers and five different receivers to keep the colts guessing. Troy, already missing junior starting quarterback Jay Darish from a Week 1 injury, suffered another huge blow in the second quarter when all-purpose senior Justin Losey, who started the game at quarterback, went down with a serious injury. The Colts could not find any rhythm against a stingy Rochester defense that has allowed only 14 points in its first two games, the lowest since giving up only 13 points in the first two weeks of the 2001 season. The Falcons’ 1993 squad did not yield a point until the fourth week and just 19 points through seven weeks. "We needed another touchdown and an extra point.
"We have nobody to blame but us," Colts offered Troy coach Gary Griffith. “We had the ball and didn’t do anything with it. We couldn’t get much going. “We had to put Danny Wunderlich in there. He played quarterback on the junior varsity last season but he wasn’t working on that all summer. He was being used as a receiver and a defensive back,” noted Griffith. “We got him some reps in practice this week.”
Troy caused two turnovers but had an interception called back in the fourth quarter after a roughing the passer penalty. The Colts had 10 penalties and three turnovers on their own and could not sustain a long enough drive in the second half to serious threaten. Twice Troy coughed the ball up on fumbles in the second half and even saw Losey throw a first-half interception. Wunderlich, a junior, played the final 2.5 quarters at QB for the Colts.
“The turnovers were big," smiled Vernon. "Coming in with their third-string quarterback, though, their timing was off. He fought hard and I give (Wunderlich) a lot of credit, but we capitalized when he had a chance to. We talk about needing to get those turnovers when they’re there for us on the ground. “We found a way to win this game,” added Vernon. “We’ll take it.”
(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily www.northoaklandsports.com and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! Network. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at dan.stickr[email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)