Turnovers handcuffed Falls City High Friday night at Jug Brown Stadium and dismissed any hopes of defeating eighth-ranked and still undefeated Syracuse. The Tigers, now 3-2 on the season, fumbled five times, losing four of them, and fell to the Rockets 33-16.
Syracuse turned the Tiger miscues into 12 points, a difference seen on the scoreboard and felt by those wearing orange and black until late in the ballgame when Syracuse added an insurance touchdown with less than two minutes to play in the game. FC, which trailed 12-8 for most of the third quarter, took over with 5:31 left in the third and their best field position of the game at their own 49-yard line, but gave it back immediately on their first play of scrimmage. Syracuse’s Zach Heitkamp made them pay seven plays later when he broke loose for a 25-yard TD run, his second of the game, to put the Rockets ahead 19-8 with 2:48 left in the third quarter.
Syracuse added another score with 10:43 left in the game to go ahead 26-8. The score made it 19-straight points for the Rockets, 12 of which came from Tiger fumbles.
The miscues weren’t lost on Tiger head coach Darin Fritz, whose team lost only one fumble prior to Friday night.
“It would have been hard to beat any team Friday night, let alone a quality team like Syracuse,” Fritz said. “We have been very good the first half of the year with our turnover ratio, we just can’t have lapses like we had Friday night.”
FC’s quick strike, big play offense was hemmed in by the physical Rockets, who held the Tigers to 92 yards rushing, by far their lowest total of the season. The Tigers ran a season-low 36 offensive plays and their two touchdowns on the night came via an 88-yard kickoff return by senior Ryan Mount early in the second quarter and early in the fourth quarter when senior Mitchell Harling found a crease in the middle of the Syracuse defense and outran everyone 68 yards to the end zone. Harling finished with 98 yards on 18 carries.
“We knew all season long that they might possibly be the most physical team that we will play all season long,” Fritz said. “I thought we caught them off guard last year with our running game, in particular how we got our backs outside their defensive ends. They had the personnel and scheme to take that away from us this year.
“I thought defensively we played very physical against a very good team. Derek McCann was unstoppable at times and played really hard with good technique. If he can continue this he will be a force.
“We had to play our best game of the year to have a chance to win and we didn’t. Our team character will not be defined by one loss or a couple of bad plays. We will be defined by how we react once we stumble.”
McCann, a senior, finished with a team-high 13 tackles, including seven solo stops and two tackles for loss.
Senior Chase Thompson and junior Jack Hartman each finished with 3 1/2 tackles for loss, resulting in more than 35 yards of loss for the Rockets. Thompson added a sack, as did junior Tucker Merz and junior Weston Witt scooped up the lone Rocket fumble.
Senior Reese Hogue returned to the field for the Tigers after missing three games with a knee injury and appeared to be healthy, despite the noticeable brace on his left knee.
Friday’s loss was the first for FC in their district where they sit at 1-1. Three games remain, two against district foes Auburn and Lincoln Christian, so a district title is still possible, but the Tigers need to win out and have Syracuse drop two of their final three games, all of which are against district opponents. The Rockets host Auburn (2-3) Friday night, then host fifth-ranked Lincoln Christian (5-0) Oct. 18 and wrap up the regular season at Lincoln Lutheran Oct. 25.
FC travels to 1-4 Fairbury Friday, comes home for homecoming Oct. 18 versus Auburn and then finishes with a Thursday game on Oct. 24 at Lincoln Christian.
First downs 13 6
Rushing 51-335 32-134
Rushing lost 48 42
Rushing net 287 92
Passing 1-3-0 3-4-0
Passing yds. 9 26
Fumbles lost 1 4
Punts–Avg. 6-39.0 5-36.0
Punt Returns 1-10 2-28
Kickoffs–Avg. 5-42.0 4-46.5
Kickoff Returns 4-76 5-125
Penalties–Yds. 10-66 1-15
Total offense 296 118
FC — Harling, 18-98, TD; B. Heckenlivley, 3-6; Stoller, 8-(-2); Mount, 3 (-10).
FC — Harling, 3-4-0, 26 yds.
FC — Stoller, 3-26.
FC — Mount, 4-146, 36.5 avg.; Kirkendall, 1-34.
FC — Harling, 2-28.
FC — Mount, 3-118, TD; B. Heckenlively, 1-4; DiGiacomo, 1-3.
FC — Thompson, 4-186, 46.5 avg.
FC — McCann, 7-6; Hartman, 4-6; B. Heckenlively, 4-5; Thompson, 3-6; Harling, 3-4; Huettner, 2-3; DiGiacomo, 1-4; Adams, 2-2; Merz, 2-1; Valentine, 0-3; Stoller, 1-1; Witt, 1-1; Weinmann, 0-2; R. Hogue, 1-0; Kirkendall, 0-1; Zimmerman, 0-1.
FC — McCann, 0.5-3; Thompson, 1-9; DiGiacomo, 0.5-3; Merz, 1-4.
Tackles For Loss-Yards Lost
FC — McCann, 2-4.5; Hartman, 3.5-13.5; Thompson, 3.5-21; DiGiacomo, 1-3.5; Merz, 1-4; Witt, 0.5-0.5.
FC — Witt, 1.