Cade Nailor wasn’t the only Rock Falls Rocket to be given a unique Senior Night moment this past Saturday.
As Nailor, the Rockets’ starting quarterback for the first 6 weeks before a hamstring injury, slowly made his way on, and then off, the field before the Rockets’ first snap of a 49-18 loss to the North Boone Vikings, senior teammate Alfred Sutton had a little quicker time getting to the right guard position for that one moment.
Like Nailor, Sutton took the field for just that instance. He had been nursing an injury to his left pinky finger for 4 weeks, but was recently cleared to play again. He’ll take the field wherever Rockets coach Steve Disler wants him on Friday at Mendota, likely on defense.
“I went to catch a ball, and it popped out of the socket,” Sutton said. “I had to go to the doctor [that day] because it was still hurting, and I had a fracture in my joint.”
Sutton missed the Rockets’ Week 4 Homecoming against Stillman Valley, as well as games at Winnebago and Oregon. Rock Falls scored 33 points in its first three games, but combined for 75 against the Cardinals and Indians the following 2 weeks. However, the points haven’t come by as easily in the past 2 weeks, with the Rockets being outscored 92-30 against the Hawks and Vikings.
Sutton hopes he can help turn around a defense that has been allowing an average of 50.8 points per game.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Sutton said about sitting out. “Coming into this season with such high hopes, and then getting down on ourselves when we lose by however many points.
“It’s kind of a wake-up call. These are my last two senior games, and I want to go out there and do something at least, and make the best of it.”
While Sutton has been given the go-ahead to play, Nailor will continue to be sidelined and nurse his hamstring. Junior quarterback Evan Laws got his first start against North Boone, and completed 9 of 21 passes with two touchdowns, but was intercepted five times.
Friday will be his second start.
It’s a situation Nailor was thrust into last year around this time; he took over play-calling duties midseason after an injury to then-starting QB Zac McKinzie.
“That experience I got [Saturday] I think is going to help me out a lot on Friday,” Laws said. “I’m getting a lot more reps at quarterback. Before Cade got hurt, I played a lot of receiver, so I focused one being a receiver and some quarterback [duties], but now I’m just focused on strictly quarterback drills.”
The transition from receiving the ball to throwing the ball has been somewhat of a mental challenge for Laws. However, according to Disler, he has continued to make strides in the three practices so far this week.
“I just got to remember some more plays, remember more motions and stuff like that, and remember to read defenses,” Laws said.
Like Rock Falls, Mendota is looking for its first win. The Trojans put together a comeback in the second half against Stillman Valley on Friday before losing 28-15; the 28 points marks the best defensive effort this season for Mendota.
The Trojans will utilize more of a run game, as opposed to a 65 percent pass game from the Rockets.
“They like to pound the ball,” Disler said. “We know that we have to get our physicality up. … Breaking in a quarterback that hadn’t taken any reps all season, that took a little bit to work on. I think as we continue to practice, he’ll get more comfortable and the offense will click around him.”
Already out of the playoff picture, the Rockets will look to end the season on a high note against a common rival. Aside from the 2011 season, Rock Falls and Mendota have been in the same conference since the Rockets joined the NCIC in 1943. The Rockets have more wins over the Trojans than any other opponent they’ve played over the past 20 seasons, boasting a 7-13 record. The two played their final NCIC game against each other in 2010 before Rock Falls departed for the BNC and Mendota to the West Central the following year. Mendota joined the BNC in 2012.
Rock Falls won a thrilling 53-48 shootout on the Trojans’ turf 2 years ago, which was their first win against Mendota since 2007. That was also was the second of a two-game winning streak after the Rockets dropped their previous 25 games.
Rock Falls made it two straight against the Trojans with a 22-18 win at Hinders Field in Week 2 last season.
This year’s Rockets are ready to put the losing to an end.
“All around, we have a lot of talent and we have a lot of potential,” Sutton said. “It’s just a matter of not letting losing in its general term get us down. We got to keep our heads up and keep going, no matter how hard it seems to be.”
“If we can get some stops on defense, it’ll give us a little boost in confidence and get us all pumped up and amped up for the rest of the game,” Laws added. “All of us want to win, and hopefully we’ll work hard this week and make it happen on Friday.”
Rock Falls (0-7) at Mendota (0-7)
When: 7:15 p.m. Friday
Where: Mendota H.S.