The five-year run of state football championships by the Rochester Rockets came to an end Saturday on the maroon and gray turf of Lindenwood Stadium.
Althoff delivered a shocking 46-42 Class 4A quarterfinal victory on a 1-yard touchdown run by Malik Easley with 3 minutes, 37 seconds remaining and Edwyn Brown’s interception in the end zone in the closing seconds.
“A lot of our parents even probably had it in the back of their mind that wow, this could be it,” Althoff quarterback Jordan Augustine said of facing the state’s top-ranked team. “We all knew deep down we could all have it, but for the rest of the state I don’t think anybody gave us a chance. We knew since the day we started practice this was the game we’d been waiting for.”
The Crusaders (12-0) will be at home in the semifinals for a 1 p.m. Saturday rematch against Mater Dei (9-3). Althoff beat the Knights 68-46 on Sept. 11.
Down 21-6 in the first half, Althoff came roaring back before a standing-room-only crowd estimated at 3,000. The Crusaders utilized a strong running game in the second half featuring Jaylon Bester and Easley along with a punishing offensive line.
We all knew deep down we could all have it, but for the rest of the state I don’t think anybody gave us a chance. We knew since the day we started practice this was the game we’d been waiting for.
Althoff quarterback Jordan Augustine
The pair combined for five TD runs and Bester had three of them, racking up 199 yards on 19 carries. He had TD runs of 60 and 23 yards in the first half.
“It seems like we always play better in the second half,” Brown said. “Coach T (Ken Turner) always gives us halftime speeches and it seems to work out all the time. We knew we had a shot at them. We thought we had nothing to lose because they’d won state five times.
“We just went out there and played our game and we came out successful.”
Bester’s 2-yard TD run with 9:23 remaining gave Althoff a 39-35 lead, but Rochester (10-2) answered on a phenomenal one-handed grab by receiver Avante’ Cox for a 21-yard touchdown about a minute later. It was Cox’s third TD catch of the day and he had 10 receptions for 253 yards.
Easley’s game-winning 1-yard run capped a 53-yard drive that included two pass interference penalties on Rochester.
Althoff still had to stop the Rockets twice to close out the win. Rochester quarterback Danny Zeigler threw an incompletion on fourth-and-goal at the Althoff 17. Althoff took over, but couldn’t kill the clock out and some miscommunication led to a punt by Augustine that gave the Rockets the ball back at the Althoff 17 with 15.9 seconds remaining.
A lot of people doubted my guys. They thought they could win this game from day one.
Althoff coach Ken Turner
On the next play, Zeigler’s pass to the left corner of the end zone intended for 6-foot-5 junior Collin Stallworth was picked off by Brown and the Crusaders were on their way to the semifinals.
“I wish we’d have threw it kind of a little bit sooner, it was too late,” Rochester coach Derek Leonard said. “But he’s our 6-5 guy, give him a shot and see what happens. We should have scored on the possession before, on the 5-yard line, first down and we just didn’t get a push.
The loss ended a 27-game playoff win streak by Rochester dating back to a 41-40 semifinal defeat against Metamora in 2009.
“A lot of people doubted my guys,” Turner said. “They thought they could win this game from day one. From the day they started practicing they felt like they could win this football game and I’m proud of them.”
The Rockets, who led 28-20 at halftime, had numerous players that were part of multiple state championship teams.
“I told those seniors ‘Guys, this was going to happen,’” Leonard said. “It’s so unfair, the expectations ... it’s not their fault. It’s better than being the opposite and never winning, but it is unfair because I think they’re going be looked at as ... this wasn’t a success.
“I think we wore out a little bit. They just started running the ball and that’s what in the end got us.”
Althoff receiver Jordan Goodwin, known more for his basketball exploits, had a career day with 11 catches for 128 yards.
“We had a few non-believers out there, but everybody on this football team knew what we were capable of,” Goodwin said. “Me and ‘QB1’ (Augustine) were clicking, we were clicking all week in practice and it carried over to the game.
“They can’t cover everybody.”
Hedges scored on an early 7-yard screen pass, then added a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter. After a 6-yard TD run by Ziegler put his team on top 21-6, Althoff answered on a 46-yard TD pass from Augustine to C.J Coldon.
Zeigler tossed a 45-yard touchdown pass to Cox, but the Crusaders answered again on Bester’s 60-yard TD run.
Augustine , who was 20-of-30 for 228 yards and two TDs, opened the second-half scoring with a 20-yard TD pass to Keenen Young. Cox had two second-half TD receptions for the Rockets.
Zeigler was 16-of-31 for 341 yards and four TDs while running back Kenny Hedges had 36 carries for 136 yards, scoring twice.