ROCK PORT, Mo. — South Holt/Nodaway-Holt head coach Josh Petersen didn’t have the words to describe his team’s performance in its 40-12 loss to Rock Port on Friday night. The Spartans lost their starting quarterback to a concussion last week in Mound City and have been outscored 68-19 since.
“Without him, this team just becomes one-dimensional,” Petersen said.
The Spartans’ offense did its share to get in its own way Friday night, but it was the defense that has continued to regress over the last two weeks. After a bad start to the season, the defense settled down and allowed just 18 points per game during a three-game winning streak. I has since allowed 102 points.
“We’ll blame the wet grass, but I think it was wet for both teams the last time I checked,” Petersen said. “I guess we’ll make excuses that we can’t tackle because the grass it wet, but it didn’t seem to slow Rock Port down.”
The ball was bouncing the Spartans’ way to start the game. Rock Port’s opening kickoff traveled a total of two yards. The SHNH offense moved the ball down to the eight yard line and then backup quarterback Gannon Phelan connected with Brody Scroggins for a touchdown.
The wet conditions did have some effect on this game as the two teams combined to fumble five times. The first fumble came on the Bluejays' first drive of the game. On third and four, running back Gavin Abbott fumbled and the Spartans recovered on the Rock Port 39.
SHNH moved the ball down inside the 20, but the drive stalled and they turned the ball over on downs. Stalling inside the red zone was a theme for Petersen and his Spartans.
“We’re a passing team and we just had no pass threat tonight,” Petersen said.
The Spartans forced the Jays into a third-and-nine on the next drive, but Abbott did his best to make up for his fumble on Rock Port’s opening drive. The senior running back took the third-and-long handoff 43 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at six.
SHNH started its next possession on the Bluejay 32 yard line. The Spartan offense marched down to the Rock Port four yard line, setting up a first-and-goal. But a holding penalty on the next play moved it back to the 14. From there, the SHNH offense was unable to do anything and turned the ball over on downs. It would be the second of three-straight possessions where it failed to convert on fourth down.
Rock Port moved down the field quickly and capped off the drive with a one-yard touchdown run from quarterback Alex Burke.
After failing to move the chains on their first three plays, the Spartans attempted a fake punt on fourth down and failed. Abbott and the Rock Port offensive line made them pay on the next drive. Abbott started the drive with a 36-yard run and then scored from 12 yards out on the second play, giving them an 18-6 lead. Rock Port head coach Ross Hastert couldn’t say enough good things about his leading rusher.
“He’s a tough son-of-a-gun, I always think he’s going to make the first guy miss and he always proves me right,” Hastert said. “He’s just a tough kid who plays with a motor.”
The Spartan passing game was finally able to get things going on its next drive. Wide receiver Eric Ottman made two receptions on the drive and then Phelan was able to find Reagan Morris for a 14-yard touchdown. Morris’ touchdown increased his season total to 13.
After that touchdown, things started going south for the Spartans. Abbott found the end zone once again to give the Jays a 26-12 lead. SHNH again moved the ball down inside the Rock Port 30, but was left empty-handed when Phelan was intercepted by his counterpart, Alex Burke.
The South Holt defense prevented further damage when Ottman intercepted his eighth pass of the season. Ottman leads the state in interceptions so far this season. The Spartans went into halftime trailing 26-12.
The South Holt/Nodaway-Holt defense tried to set a spark to start the second half when Rock Port’s Brett Gayler fumbled. The Spartans moved the ball down to the Bluejays’ 18 yard line, but a heave from Phelan on fourth and five landed in Burke’s hands for the second time in the game.
The South Holt defense again held strong after the turnover, forcing a Rock Port punt. Punter Joey Herron attempted a fake punt, but slipped four yards short of the first down. Petersen moved running back Taran Clark to quarterback on the next drive, but the offense was still ineffective and fumbled on fourth down.
“That’s not an easy offense to stop and I thought our defense played really well,” Hastert said.
Abbott continued to torment the Spartan defense late in the fourth quarter with touchdown runs of eight and 38 yards. Abbott finished with 253 yards on 26 carries and scored five touchdowns for Rock Port.
After Abbott’s final score, the two teams used their benches to run out the clock. The win was the first in four weeks for the Bluejays.
“Really proud of the kids, we’ve gotten really beat up the last three weeks,” Hastert said. “Tonight I thought that we put it all together and played a complete game.”
The Bluejays leaned heavily on Abbott throughout the game. The rest of the Rock Port team finished with just 104 total yards. Abbott had 256 yards from scrimmage. Rock Port will finish the regular season next week with a matchup against undefeated Mound City.
As for the Spartans, Phelan finished the game going 6-of-15 with 70 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Taran Clark led the Spartans with 106 rushing yards on 20 carries, but missed most of the second half with an injury.
Ottman finished with three receptions for 18 yards and Morris finished with two catches for 44 yards. The team as a whole finished with just 188 total yards. South Holt will finish the regular season with a home game against winless North-West Nodaway. Petersen hopes that his team can get back on track with Quinlin returning next week.
“Hopefully we get Drew back and get back on a winning streak,” Petersen said. “This one is done and hopefully we can finish the season with a win.”