By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The tape is now out there on the Kent Roosevelt football team.
They lean heavily on empty-backfield sets that spread the field and allow their playmakers to get the ball in space to make something happen.
First-year head coach Kardell Jackson was not bashful in his preseason assertions that his Rough Riders would play that way.
He knows his opposition knows, and while Jackson has no intention of backing away from his team’s strengths, he also knows that they are going to have to be able to grind games out on the ground at times, too.
On Friday, the pass-heavy Riders showed a glimpse of the balanced offense that could make them more challenging moving forward.
Kent Roosevelt rushed the ball 38 times for 238 yards in a 28-14 Homecoming victory over Cuyahoga Falls to open the team’s Suburban League schedule.
“We worked on our run game all week, because we know teams are going to start daring us to run,” Jackson said. “We have to be ready to be able to do both and do both well. We want to get the ball in space to our playmakers, but we also preach toughness in the run game and our guys responded well tonight.”
Roosevelt, which is now 3-1 for the first time since 2013, also found some success through the air, with senior quarterback Jack Smith completing 14-of-25 passes for 132 yards.
The big play through the air came on a 49-yard, third-quarter score to Jaiden Portis to give the Riders (3-1) a 21-14 lead after the Black Tigers owned the first six minutes of the third quarter to turn a 14-0 deficit into a 14-14 momentum-swinging tie.
On Portis’ go-ahead touchdown, which eventually proved to be the game-winning score, Smith flipped the ball onto the edge on the left side on one of Roosevelt’s patented receiver screens. From there, Portis did the rest.
He bubbled back just slightly to get himself to the left sideline, then he switched to a different speed — one that nobody else could match — and along with a healthy block from teammate Parker D’Sidocky, Portis sprinted to the end zone.
“Jaiden has special speed, and he is one of those players that we know if we can get him on the edge, he can make something happen. On that play, he made it happen,” Jackson said.
Portis’ touchdown was not only an example of Roosevelt’s game-breaking speed, but it was also exactly what the team needed to slow down the Tigers’ sudden spark.
After totaling just five total yards of offense in the first half and falling behind 14-0 at halftime, the Tigers quickly turned the tables and pushed a 14-14 tie at the 6:20 mark of the third quarter.
Cuyahoga Falls (2-2) opened the second half with possession and advanced the ball to the Riders’ 39-yard line before a 3rd-and-17 put the Tigers in a difficult situation to convert a new set of downs.
A well called screen pass, however, had an over anxious Riders defensive line pulled up the field, which allowed Tigers quarterback Joey Earl to float the ball up and over the rush to running back Zavier Lindsey, who shot out of a cannon for 39 yards and the score to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 14-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, a boot that landed between a pair of Roosevelt players caused some confusion and the misplayed ball ended up in the hands of Cuyahoga Falls on the Roosevelt 16.
Two plays later, Valentino Cargill took a handoff around the left corner into open space before pushing across the goal line for a 20-yard touchdown.
The Tigers’ offensive burst in those two series accounted for 89 yards. The entire rest of the game, Cuyahoga Falls totaled just 35 yards.
A sign of Kent Roosevelt’s relative control of the game, which made the score a bit perplexing considering the disparity in total plays, yards and time of possession.
Turnovers can be the great equalizer and Roosevelt found itself giving the ball up a lot through the first 30 minutes of the game, including three lost fumbles and two turnovers on downs. In total, the Riders fumbled the ball seven times in the game and turned it over twice in the red zone.
“It definitely put us in some tough situations, but we had to stay focused on the next play. That is the only way you work your way out of those situations,” Jackson said. “We knew that we needed our defense to step up and get the ball back so that our offense could get another chance. We believed that our offense would start to click at some point.”
Jackson credited his team’s leadership and ability to remain positive despite what felt like an avalanche of momentum-turning turnovers going against them.
“We have a great group with great leadership skills,” Jackson said. “They just kept playing. They kept their energy up and they stayed positive. That positive energy is important.”
Roosevelt added its insurance touchdown with 1:34 left in the game, with James Lewis running 17 hard yards for the touchdown.
It was the Riders’ third rushing touchdown of the game. The first two came in the first half, when the Riders built their 14-0 lead.
After a scoreless first quarter, and scoreless 10 minutes of the second quarter, Anthony Helton plunged across the goal line for a 5-yard score at 2:33 left in the first half. A three-and-out by Cuyahoga Falls gave the ball back to Roosevelt, which navigated down the field and against the clock by using some timeouts to manage the clock.
On the final offensive play of the first half, Smith dropped back to pass, but pulled the ball down and took off running. He eluded a couple of would-be tacklers, found some open space and then barreled through two Tigers’ defensive backs as he stretched the ball over the goal line with 4 seconds left. With Roosevelt out of timeouts, it was a risky play to run the ball, but the reward was large and gave the Riders their 14-0 edge at the break.
In addition to his 132 yard through the air, Smith had 94 yards rushing on 15 carries. Lewis finished with 10 attempts and 73 yards and Helton’s 40 yards came on six attempts.
Great stuff, Tom. And superb photos by your daughter. Keep up the great work!