Johnson’s big returns lead Rock Falls to victory over Oregon

Rocket alums find a way on road

Justin Johnson (4), Rock Falls class of 2008, turns up the sideline on a punt return for a touchdown. He was aided by a large block by Jericho Romero (21), class of 2010, and a block by Justin Reyes (22) class of 2004. (Chris Johnson)

OREGON – Rock Falls probably had no business beating Oregon 20-12 in an Alumni Football USA football game. But, the undermanned Rockets pulled off the upset on the road in front of a large home crowd.

“We have the right guys with the right heart,” team captain Tony Parvin said. “What happened says a lot about our character.”

Lacking the football pedigree of Oregon, being out-sized, having half as many players on its roster as the Hawks, suffering numerous injuries, and not being able to run or pass the ball with much success did not keep Rock Falls from moving to 2-2 overall in alumni games, breaking a two-game losing skid.

“Football’s universal,” RF coach Ryan Newman said. “So what if you get your brains beat in like we did in high school. Guys still want to play, and we showed how tough Rock Falls players are tonight.”

It was Oregon’s first loss in three seasons as one of Alumni
Football USA’s more successful programs, and one of the main reasons for that was the big-play capability of RF’s Justin Johnson. The speedy 2008 grad had touchdowns from a 70-yard punt return on a booming spiral by Jeff Yount, and 70-yard interception return for the Rockets.

“On the punt, I had to back up about 10 yards to get it, and then one of my own players almost ran into me,” Johnson said. “I took it outside and No. 27 with the long hair [Rudy Castillo] scared me. I thought he had me, but I dived in for the score.”

Johnson played semi-professionally 2 years ago for the Roscoe Rush, but nearly died in a car accident last year. He only signed on to play with the Rock Falls alumni the day before the game after being asked by the short-handed team.

On the interception return, Johnson jumped a pass thrown in the flat by Shawn Melville and ran untouched to the end zone to give the Rockets a 20-6 lead in the third quarter.

Last year, the 39-year old Melville completed 80 percent of his passes in a win over Amboy. Against Rock Falls, both Melville and Corey Fry had miserable games, completing 8 of 30 passes and having three picked off.

“They had really fast defensive backs,” said Fry, just as Matt Hudgins knocked away a potential touchdown pass by Melville in the fourth quarter. “The ball didn’t come out of our hands very crisp, either. Maybe we’ll be getting a new quarterback next year that is capable of running.”

After Johnson’s punt return gave RF an 8-0 lead, Oregon finally gave up the passing game and started feeding the ball to former University of Wisconsin-Platteville star Nick Snyder in a one-back set.

Three straight long gains by Snyder set up Oregon’s best pass play of the night, a 27-yard scoring strike from Fry to Jeremy Milnes.

“The play-action got the DB to bite. All I had to do was out-jump the safety,” Milnes said. “What a feeling to catch a touchdown. It’s almost surreal. It’s not like real life being under the lights on your old field.”

Ahead 8-6 with time running out in the first half, Rock Falls scored an insurance touchdown on a 1-yard sneak by Brock Tedrick on fourth down. It was questionable whether he was in or not, but one of the officials finally signaled a score after much delay.

“It was close, but I was over,” said Tedrick, who’s been in the Army for the past 6 years.

Oregon had a chance to get back in the game early in the third quarter after RF had a bad snap on a punt in its own territory. Two plays later, though, Johnson saved his team with the long pick-6.

“Those two plays by him were the difference in the game,” Fry said.

Starting at midfield late in the third quarter, Melville started to find his rhythm, connecting with his son – 2015 grad Jensen Melville – Shane Akins and Castillo on consectutive completions. That set up Snyder for a 2-yard touchdown and pulled Oregon to within 20-12.

But that was it for the Hawks, as the RF defense forced a fumble and nabbed an interception to stop two potential scoring drives. 

“We studied their game films from 2015 and tried to mimic them in practice,” said Parvin, one of several Rockets who were cramped up or injured but came back to play throughout the evening.

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