By Garth Shanklin
For the first time in three years, the Rocket Trophy is back in Clermont County.
The Battle of the Rockets, 2017 edition occurred on Sept. 28 in Owensville, with Clermont Northeastern opening Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference National Division play with a resounding 42-7 victory.
Fayetteville found themselves down quickly. Cole Joslin put CNE ahead 7-0 early, and after Fayetteville fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Dakota Hawk found the end zone for an early 14-0 Rocket lead. Joslin scored his second touchdown of the quarter a few minutes later, giving CNE a 21-0 lead with 5:49 left in the first quarter.
Fayetteville head coach Kevin Finch said the team’s inexperience contributed to the poor start, while complimenting CNE on the program’s success.
“We had a slow start,” Finch said. “That’s part of our inexperience, we’re pretty young this year. I think we still have growing pains, how to come out against a team. We definitely started slow but I was proud of how the kids responded in the second half. Hats off to Coach Fishback, he’s done a wonderful job with this program.”
CNE head coach Jeremy Fishback said the team’s quick start was crucial, especially given the way the team played one week prior against Hillsboro.
“It takes a bit of the pressure off the boys,” “It gets them back into doing what they know how to do, and that’s play ball. We had a couple weeks where we didn’t perform well, and that was the main thing, for these guys to come back out and play ball the way they know how.”
Hawk scored his second touchdown of the game early in the second quarter, an eight-yard run that gave the Rockets a 28-0 lead at the 10:13 mark of the second quarter. After a Fayetteville fumble deep in CNE territory, the Rockets marched back down the field and scored on another run by Joslin, his third touchdown of the day.
Clermont County’s Rockets led 35-0 at halftime. Freshman Logan Pottorf’s first career varsity catch was a 20-yard touchdown that gave CNE a 42-0 lead. Fayetteville added a 57-yard touchdown pass from Luke Wiederhold to Bowen Doan with 6:47 left, but that was all the scoring the Rockets could muster.
Joslin finished the game with 21 carries for 187 yards and three scores. Hawk carried the ball 16 times for 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Finch said the team’s offensive line, combined with his team’s early deficit made the run game hard to stop.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” Finch said. “They had a couple kids in the middle who are strong and did a great job. The situation of the game kind of limited us, if the score was different it may have been a different story as far as establishing the run. I felt that we could still throw the ball well, and when you’re behind you have to do what you’re strong at. Our passing game is what we hang our hat on.”
Fishback also had praise for his men in the trenches.
“We’ve got really good lineman,” Fishback said. “That’s where it starts at, in the trenches. These guys have been working religiously on it each day in practice, trying to get to the second level and that’s what gets the running game opened up.”
Of course, it doesn’t matter how talented the offensive line is if the running backs aren’t able to take advantage of the holes that are opened up. Joslin and Hawk are able to do just that.
“They’re elusive kids, they put a lot of work in and it’s showing,” Fishback said. “I just hope they continue to stay healthy and keep up the good work.”
The Rockets did not throw the ball too often against Fayetteville. Dylan Gilley completed one of his three attempts for 28 yards while Luke Rayburn was a perfect two-for-two with 33 yards and the touchdown to Pottorf. Fishback said getting the younger players involved at the varsity level is crucial to the team’s future success.
“Building a program, you need these young guys to step up and contribute and get positive reps,” Fishback said. “It’s nice to get him a little reward like that.”
Defensively, the CNE defenders made finding rushing lanes or open receivers hard for Fayetteville. Fishback said the team made a few personnel changes that appear to have paid off.
“We moved a few kids around, tried a few new things,” Fishback said. “All in all, I think they did a decent job tonight, there are still a few things to work on though.”
Fayetteville also has a few things to work on as they prepare to take on East Clinton, but their attitude and their ability to respond to difficult situations is not something they have to adjust.
“The kids responded,” Finch said. “I told them at the beginning of the game they were going to have some difficult situations and they’re going to have to respond. That was the word I kept saying over and over again. They kept battling and kept fighting.”
Starting 1-0 in league play is big for CNE, according to Fishback.
“It’s huge,” Fishback said. “It takes some of the pressure off. We go to Bethel, they’re an outstanding team. We have to go back to the drawing board, start preparing and get ready to go again.”
The Rockets face off against the undefeated Bethel-Tate Tigers in Bethel on Friday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.