ROCKFORD, Ill. - The Rockford University football team stepped out of NACC play for the final time this season on Saturday as the Regents hosted the Kalamazoo College Hornets (1-8) of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The game was highly competitive and close throughout with the largest lead for either team coming at just seven points. Unfortunately it was the Hornets who ultimately came out on top with a 13-6 win.
There were a total of just 6 points in the entire first half, with all of them coming in the first quarter. Kalamazoo broke the scoreless tie on the first possession of the game when the Hornets covered 47 yards on 8 plays and capped off the drive with 30-yard field goal by Greg Kearns to take an early 3-0 lead. Following a Rockford punt, the Hornets added three more points as Kearns booted his second 30-yard field goal in as many possessions to extend the Kalamazoo advantage to 6-0.
Rockford's best scoring opportunity in the first half came with just 68 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The drive was setup by the RU special teams unit when the Regents stopped the Hornets on their own 48-yard line on a fake punt attempt. Rockford would get the ball down as close as the 29-yard line, but came away empty as the Regents entered the half trailing 6-0.
The third quarter seemed to get off to an excellent start when senior Joe Breeden (Burlington, Ill.) returned the opening kickoff 54 yards all the way to the Kalamazoo 30-yard line. Rockford then ran the ball six straight times down to the 12-yard line, led by a trio of carries from freshman LaVar Johnson Jr. (Memphis, Tenn.). Unfortunately the Regents again came away empty-handed, turning the ball over on downs.
The Rockford defense continued to keep the Regents in the game forcing a turnover on downs and recovering a fumble on two of the next three Hornet possessions. With Kalamazoo facing a fourth and three at the Rockford 25-yard line, freshman Malik Johnson (Chicago, Ill.) came up with a huge quarterback sack for a loss of 22 yards to give the ball back to the RU offense. Two Hornet possessions later, the RU defense again came up with a big play to give its offense the ball near midfield. Defensive lineman Jared Johnson (Miami, Fla.) forced a Hornet fumble which was recovered by linebacker Austin Carlson (Hanover Park, Ill.).
This time the RU offense would take advantage of the turnover and score its first points of the afternoon. With Rockford facing a third and 13 at the on their own 44-yard line, quarterback Eric Mackey (Marengo, Ill.) connected with Kalan Miller (Cordova, Tenn.) for 37 yards to bring the ball all the way down to Kalamazoo 19-yard line. Three plays later, Mackey found fellow freshman Brandon Hausladen (Athol, Idaho) in the end zone for 15-yard touchdown to tie the game at 6-6.
The game would not remained tied for long as the Hornets responded with their first touchdown of the day to retake the lead. The Kalamazoo drive covered 63 yards on 10 plays and was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown run on third and goal to give the Hornets a 13-7 advantage.
Despite the quick Hornet touchdown, the Regents still had a lot of fight left in them as quarterback Eric Mackey engineered one final drive down the field to try and tie the game. Mackey connected on 4-of-5 pass attempts on the drive including a 26-yard completion to Jon Kaifesh (Greenfield, Wis.) to give Rockford a first and goal at the 8-yard line. Unfortunately it was not meant to be as the Hornets intercepted a pass in the end zone on fourth and goal to seal the 13-7 win.
The Rockford defense was the story of the game as it allowed a season-low 13 points. Junior Jared Johnson led the Regents with a career-high 13 tackles including 11 solo tackles. Johnson also had 1 tackle for loss and forced a crucial fumble that led to Rockford's only score. Freshman linebacker Malik Johnson was all over the field tallying a season-high 11 tackles including 8 solo tackles. The freshman also had 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack. Fellow freshman Austin Carlson also had a nice day, recording 8 tackles and recovering a fumble. Joe Stout (Brodhead, Wis.) and Jacob Cremeens (Roscoe, Ill.) both found their way into the Hornet backfield with a 0.5 sack each.
Rockford used a balanced attack on the offensive side of the ball for the majority of the game. Freshman wide receiver Liam Joyce (Harvard, Ill.) caught 4 passes for 51 yards and also ran the ball 6 times for 34 yards. Freshman running back LaVar Johnson Jr. was again the leading rusher for the Regents with 45 yards on 10 carries. Sophomore Kalan Miller was Rockford's leading receiver, catching 4 passes for 53 yards. Quarterback Eric Mackey finished with 149 yards passing and 1 touchdown.
The RU football team concludes its season next Saturday, November 11 at the now four-time defending NACC Champion Lakeland University Muskies. Kickoff is set for noon.