WARSAW — The true test of any young football team is how they start on the road.
Indeed, Plymouth had chances to go up early against both Bremen and Rochester in Weeks 1 and 2 but wasn’t quite able to get off to the start it hoped for.
The Rockies had no such trouble Friday as they jumped off to an 8-0 start barely three minutes in on their way to a 22-7 first half lead at Warsaw, a fast start they rode to an eventual 29-13 Northern Lakes Conference-opening win.
“That’s probably what I’m most proud of them for is the way they approached the game,” said Plymouth head football coach John Barron, who moved to 7-1 against the Tigers in his eighth year at the helm. “We have an inexperienced team, we have six seniors, but they’ve taken control of what we’re doing. They believe in each other, they listen to their coaches, and they prepared well.”
“This is a real good win for us, and they’re a real good football team,” he said. “We came over here and did the things that we needed to do on the road. We got on them early.”
After establishing their running game at home against Rochester last week with 444 ground yards, the Rockies continued rolling with 440 rushing yards at Warsaw.
Junior quarterback Ike Kastner carried the mail in Week 2 and put up another 130 yards in 16 carries while scoring Plymouth’s first touchdown of the night Friday, but it was fullback Sam Stevens who played the yeoman’s role with an impressive 237 yards in 27 rushes and a touchdown as well as a two-point conversion following Kastner’s 14-yard TD run that put Plymouth up 8-0 at the 8:55 mark of the first quarter. Stevens’ longest run of the night was his 38-yard touchdown carry that put the Rockies up 15-0 with Jordan Knapp’s point-after kick at the 8:35 stop of the second frame, but the junior back managed several other big-play rushes, including a 31-yarder to set up a six-play, 66-yard touchdown drive capped off by a Cole Mann 15-yard run with three minutes remaining in the first half. Mann, who only recently joined the Rockies offense in Week 2, saw increased action at Warsaw with seven touches for 44 yards and two touchdown carries, the second a 13-yarder that gave Plymouth its biggest lead of the night, 29-7 at the 5:39 mark of the third period.
“That says something about our offensive linemen. It says something about our quarterback and fullback and wings,” said Barron. “I think everybody is unselfish and they’re trusting one another. We’re believing in each other right now.
“(Stevens) is a workhorse. He’s a tough kid, he’s a fast kid, he’s powerful. He’s learned to run the option game very well, and it’s tough for a fullback to do that. He’s staying on rhythm with Ike, and again, the big guys up front really did a great job.”
Plymouth’s defense also played solidly Friday, holding the host Tigers to 160 rushing yards on 30 attempts. The Rockies’ only defensive weakness was its secondary, which allowed combined 7-of-18 passing for 128 yards by Warsaw quarterbacks Brock Anson and Austin Head — including a 40-yard touchdown strike from Head to wide receiver Jordan Wray that put the home team on the board at the 5:37 stop of the second quarter — but Plymouth’s young defensive backs did manage a pick by sophomore Trenton Briles on a near-touchdown play with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter, and they broke up a pair of Head passes into the end zone during a key goal-line stand that halted a 72-yard Warsaw drive at the Plymouth 4-yard line at the start of the third.
One of Warsaw’s few bright spots on offense was senior running back Zach Rooney, who tallied 118 yards on 16 rushes, including a 3-yard touchdown scamper for the final score of the night with 9:08 remaining.
“Zach did tonight what he’s got to do for us, and maybe we’ve got to get him the ball a little more,” said Warsaw head coach Phil Jensen. “But they started doing some things; they’re well-coached. They saw what we were doing so they’d take that away, then we’d do something else and they’d take that away, but it’s a good football program.”
The Rockies will host NLC foe Northridge next week at 7:30 p.m.
• PLYMOUTH 29,
Score by quarters
Plymouth: 8 14 7 0 — 29
Warsaw: 0 7 0 6 — 13
Plymouth — Ike Kastner 14-yd run (Sam Stevens run) 8:55
Plymouth — Stevens 38-yd run (Jordan Knapp kick) 8:35
Warsaw — Jordan Wray 40-yd pass from Austin Head (Jeff Ballinger kick) 5:27
Plymouth — Cole Mann 15-yd run (Knapp kick) 3:00
Plymouth — Mann 13-yd run (Knapp kick) 5:39
Warsaw — Zach Rooney 3-yd run (Run fail) 9:08
Rushing: 63-440; Stevens 27-237, Kastner 16-130, Mann 7-44
Passing: Kastner 2-0-1 for 0
First downs: 23
Rushing: 30-160; Rooney 16-118
Passing: Brock Anson 10-5-0 for 69, Head 8-2-1 for 59
First downs: 13
Records: Plymouth 2-1 (1-0 NLC), Warsaw 0-3 (0-1 NLC).