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Football Drops Season Opener to Highlanders

Kalan Miller
Kalan Miller

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. - The Rockford University football team kicked off its 2017 season on Saturday with a road trip to face the MacMurray College Highlanders. The game went back-and-forth throughout the afternoon as both teams led at various points. Ultimately the difference in the game was Rockford coming up empty on three separate trips into the red zone as the Regents fell by a final score of 22-14.

The game got off to a great start as the Regents forced a turnover on the opening possession of the day, and then scored a touchdown on their first drive of the season. Freshman Austin Carlson (Hanover Park, Ill.) prematurely ended the Highlander's opening drive by intercepting a pass and returning it to the RU 40-yard line, giving his team excellent starting field position. The RU offense then went to work methodically moving the ball down the field using a mix a run and pass plays. The first big play of the game came on fourth and six when quarterback Eric Mackey (Marengo, Ill.) found Kalan Miller (Cordova, Tenn.) on a 29-yard touchdown pass to put Rockford out in front 7-0. Unfortunately the lead was short lived as the Highlanders scored on their next possession to tie the game at 7-7.

Rockford would have three more scoring opportunities in the half with the Regents finally cashing in on their third attempt to retake the lead. In each of the first two scoring chances the Regents were able to move the ball down the field but turned it over deep in Highlander territory. In the first of the two drives, Rockford covered 45 yards on 10 plays before fumbling at the MacMurray 24-yard line to end the scoring threat. Two possessions later, the Regents had the ball first and goal at the nine yard line, but were unable to score on four plays as Rockford fumbled at the 1-yard to keep the game knotted at 7-7. Fortunately things began to look better on the next drive as Rockford used 9 plays to go 60 yards and retake the lead at 14-7. Brice Spence (Cornith, Miss.) was the workhorse on the possession carrying the ball 7 times for 36 yards; however, the drive was ultimately capped off by a 2-yard Eric Mackey touchdown run. Unfortunately MacMurray once again responded immediately with a touchdown of its own along with a two-point conversion to take a 15-14 advantage into halftime. 

The Regents had two more prime scoring opportunities in the second half but came up empty on both. The first was setup once again by the Rockford defense as sophomore Dylan Peterson (Reynolds, Ill.) forced and recovered a fumble to give his team the ball on its own 35-yard line. Again it was the RU rushing attack that moved the ball down the field this time led by the duo of Brice Spence and Chance Manning (Durand, Ill.). The two combined for 39 of the 64 yards as the Regents had the ball first and goal at the nine. However just like earlier in the game, Rockford ran four plays and came away empty-handed turning the ball over on downs at the 1-yard line. Following a quick three and out and a poor Highlander punt, the Rockford offense had the ball on the MacMurray 32-yard line with a chance to retake the lead. However, the Regents were only able to pick up one first down and then missed a field goal attempt as the Highlanders once again escaped with a 1-point lead early in the fourth quarter. MacMurray would take advantage of the RU missed field goal scoring its third touchdown of the game to grab a 22-14 advantage, its largest of the day. After a quick three and out by the Regents, MacMurray sealed the win running out the final 6 minutes and 29 seconds of the game.

Offensively the Regents struggled to get their passing game on track but were able to move the ball very well on the ground. Rockford racked up 228 yards rushing led by the duo of Brice Spence and Chance Manning who had 105 and 78 yards respectively. Sophomore wide out Kalan Miller led the RU passing attack catching 3 passes for a team-high 42 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively Rockford played very well forcing 6 turnovers including 4 fumbles and 2 interceptions. Dylan Peterson had an excellent all-around game making a career-high 12 tackles including a tackle for loss and forcing and recovering a fumble. Linebacker Chase Ferree (Crown Point, Ind.) turned in a stellar performance in his first collegiate game recording a team-high 14 tackles and 1 pass breakup. Zachary Bothem (Roscoe, Ill.) and Ja'uan Joiner (Phenix City, Ala.) each had 7 tackles with Bothem forcing and recovering a fumble, while Joiner intercepted a pass.

The RU football team returns to the field on Saturday, September 9 for its home opener against Robert Morris University Peoria. Kickoff is set for 1 PM at Sam Greeley Field.