Tolsia spoils Rock Hill coach’s debut

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 29, 2004

PEDRO - A new coach. A new field. Lots of new players. Rock Hill had the ending to their opening game scripted perfectly after battling back from a fourth-quarter deficit.

But somebody forgot to tell the Tolsia (W.Va.) Rebels, who lived up to their name Friday night by staging a late uprising to win the double-overtime thriller 20-14.

Of course, he wished that just one or two more plays had gone the Redmen's way, but first-year head coach Todd Knipp lived up to the expectations.

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"I knew I would always remember this game," Knipp said. "I didn't know it would go to double overtime. So, it will be really memorable."

Rock Hill used a combination of players to outgain the Rebels on the ground 210 yards to 171, but Tolsia took to the air and made enough key runs to edge the Redmen.

Still, Coach Knipp said he was encouraged by what he saw from his young team that returned only two starters from last year.

"You can't practice that (type of game). We can definitely learn from this. We have to cut down on our mistakes in the kicking game and execute better," he said. "I am really pleased with the effort our kids put forth to battle back there at the end."

But right from the start, things were a little bumpy for both teams on the new turf carpet that shined in Rock Hill's stadium. Tolsia ran the ball effectively on the ground but four straight penalties helped kill the drive. The Redmen got good field position but fumbled the ball away.

On its next possession, Tolsia kept the ball on the ground until a third down play at midfield. Quarterback Brien Runyon escaped from three Redmen in the backfield and aired it out down the left sideline for a long touchdown.

Not so fast, said the referee. The yellow laundry hit the field for offensive pass interference and the score came off the board. That killed Tolsia's drive, forcing a punt.

The Redmen took over on the 20 yard line. Four plays later, Rock Hill quarterback Derek Robinson darted into the open field for a big 55-yard gain. The drive stalled after Robinson lofted a fourth down pass into the back of the end zone that skipped off the fingertips of his receiver.

Tolsia took over as the quarter ended, but the Redmen's young defense held their ground to force a punt. Rock Hill got the ball at Tolsia's 45 yard line.

Seven straight running plays and junior running back T.J. Blagg capped the drive with a 10-yard scamper to make the score 6-0 after the point attempt was missed.

The Rebels started the revolt on their next possession by taking to the air. Runyon connected on a 48 yard pass and later hit receiver Ryan Carter for a 37-yard touchdown. A missed PAT of their own knotted the score at 6-6, a score that would hold up until the third quarter.

Rock Hill got the ball first in the second half but couldn't sustain a drive. A short punt gave Tolsia the ball at the Redmen's 23. Five plays later, Runyon called his own number for a 1-yard scoring dive. Running back B.J. Evans converted on the two-point conversion to make the score 14-6.

The fourth quarter opened with Tolsia threatening again, deep in Redmen territory. On fourth and less than one Rock Hill's Zach Moore and Matt McFann stuffed the play for a loss. The fans stomped, screamed and shouted as the momentum shifted back towards the home team.

Rock Hill marched 50 yards, mostly on the legs of Blagg and K.C. Christian. Robinson found Christian along the right sideline for a 20-yard touchdown. The duo kept the connection going on the two-point try that evened the game at 14 apiece with 4:12 to play.

Tolsia tried to mount a drive but was unable to as the game moved into overtime and the Redmen had new life.

Each team failed to put any points up in their first possession. Tolsia fumbled after two plays. The Redmen missed a 32-yard field goal.

On their second possession, Rock Hill couldn't get the ball moving on the ground or through the air and failed to score. Given a second chance, the Rebels mounted a six-play drive, capped off by a 1-yard plunge from Evans, which set the final margin at 20-14.

"Our kids really hung in there," said Tolsia coach Drew Waller. "It would have been easy for them to give up but they showed a lot of heart and hung in there."