Football's Fourth Quarter Comeback Falls Just Short

LaVar Johnson Jr.
LaVar Johnson Jr.

AURORA, Ill. - The Rockford University football team lost a heartbreaker on Saturday, 28-21 on the road to the Aurora University Spartans. Although the Regents came up short on the scoreboard, there were numerous positive takeaways from the game. Rockford threw for a season-high 220 yards, which was twice as many passing yards as Aurora. The Regents also possessed the ball for a season-high 33:57, while running a season-high 79 offensive plays. Both of those numbers dwarfed the Spartan's 26:03 of time of possession and 58 total plays. However the difference ultimately was Aurora's ability to create big plays and force turnovers. Rockford turned the ball over in Aurora's territory three times as well as turning the ball over on downs inside the Spartan 10-yard line.

The game seemingly got off to a good start as Rockford took the opening kickoff and methodically moved the ball down the field. LaVar Johnson Jr. (Memphis, Tenn.) was the workhorse on the drive, carrying the ball 5 times for 21 yards. Perhaps the biggest play for the Regents came on third and 12 when Eric Mackey (Marengo, Ill.) found Adam Ambrogio (Rockford, Ill.) for a 19-yard completion down to the Spartan 32-yard line. Rockford would get as close as the AU 21-yard line, but unfortunately that's where the drive would end as the Regents were intercepted in the end zone. 

Following a pair of punts from both the Rockford and Aurora, the Spartans would end the scoreless tie late in the second quarter. Aurora used 11 plays to cover 65 yards to take a 6-0 lead. The Spartans would then add to their lead on their very next possession. After a Regent fumble, Aurora went 71 yards on just 6 plays to take a 13-0 lead into the half. 

The second half got off to a rough start as Aurora extended its lead less than one minute into the third quarter. On only the second offensive play of the half, Aurora running back Connor Olson scampered 61 yards to the end zone to give the Spartans a 19-0 advantage. 

Fortunately Rockford was able to answer with a touchdown of its on the very next possession. Facing a fourth and nine at the Aurora 29-yard line, Eric Mackey came through with a huge 29-yard touchdown strike to Jon Kaifesh (Greefield, Wis.) to chop the Spartan lead to 19-6. However, the Spartans promptly blocked the extra pointed and returned it for two points of their own to make it a 21-6 game. 

The Spartans would extend their lead one final time a few possessions later when AJ Hunter returned a Rockford punt 88 yards for a touchdown. This time Aurora would connect on the extra point to make it a 28-6 game. 

The score would remain unchanged until the fourth quarter when Rockford began to seize control of the game. On their first drive of the quarter, the Regents went 61 yards on 9 plays capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run from LaVar Johnson Jr.. Johnson once again carried the load on the drive, running the ball four times for 43 yards. However, the biggest play came on penultimate play of the drive when Mackey found Ambrogio for a 21-yard completion on fourth and 14 to give his team a first and goal at the Spartan 3-yard line. Johnson would take it from there, scoring on the next play to make it a 28-12 game. Mackey then added the 2-point conversion to cut the deficit to 28-14. 

Rockford would make it a one-possession game after its defense forced another Aurora punt. This time however, it was the RU passing attack that moved the ball down field inside the 10-yard line. Mackey completed back-to-back passes of 12 and 19 yards to Phillip Robinson (Hazel Crest, Ill.) and Adam Ambrogio to give his team a first and goal at the Spartan 7-yard line. One play later, LaVar Johnson Jr. found the end zone for the second time in the quarter as the Regents pulled back within a single score at 28-21. 

Everything seemed to be going Rockford's way, as Aurora proceeded to fumble on the second play of its next possession giving the ball back to the Regents at the Rockford 41-yard line. Freshman defensive lineman Jallen Bashford (Fairbury, Ill.) came up the big play as he recovered the AU fumble, which was their only turnover of the game. The RU offense then went to work, moving the ball down the field and looking to tie the game. Facing another fourth and 14, Mackey again came through a huge 29-yard completion down to the Aurora 22-yard line. Unfortunately, the Spartans would force and recover a fumble on the play to end the Regent threat. 

The Regents would get the ball back one final time with a chance to tie. However Rockford was unable to do anything with it, turning the ball over on downs as Aurora secured a 28-21 win.

Eric Mackey, LaVar Johnson Jr. and Adam Ambrogio led the Rockford offense. Mackey completed a season-high 17 passes for a season-high 220 yards and 1 touchdown. Johnson turned in his second straight 100-yard rushing performance on Saturday as he carried the ball 20 times for a season-high 120 yards and 2 touchdowns. Ambrogio was Rockford's leading receiver catching a season-high 7 passes for a season-high 80 yards. 

Defensively Rockford played very well as the unit surrendered just 19 points with the other 9 points coming from the AU special teams unit. Austin Carlson (Hanover Park, Ill.) and Zachary Bothem (Roscoe, Ill.) led the RU defense with 9 and 8 tackles respectively. Jallen Bashford finished with 6 tackles and 1 fumble recovery. 

The RU football team returns home next Saturday, October 28 against Concordia University Wisconsin. Kickoff is set for 1 PM at Sam Greeley Field.