ANGOLA – Throughout the regular season, the Plymouth football team struggled under adversity.
In Friday’s sectional contest at Angola, the Rockies responded when it mattered most.
Plymouth battled back from a 14-0 deficit in the first quarter and capitalized with scores on each of eight Angola turnovers on its way to a 49-21 victory in a wild Class 4A Sectional 11 opener.
The win snapped a tough five-game skid for Plymouth, which now advances to play Northern Lakes Conference rival NorthWood after the Panthers’ 14-10 defeat of Wawasee Friday in the second round back home next week at Plymouth.
“We’re 1-0 right now. Nothing else matters and we’re alive and we’re going to get back to the drawing board tomorrow and eat some biscuits and gravy because we’ve earned it,” said Plymouth Head Football Coach John Barron. “We got to sing the Rockie fight song tonight. The kids remembered the words. It just feels a lot better. I’m proud of our staff and our six seniors, they’ve hung in with the staff and we’ll just keep things going.”
Angola jumped off to an early lead with touchdown drives following two recovered onside kicks to put Plymouth down 14-0 just six and a half minutes in, but the Rockies offense got several big lifts from its defense as the team answered back with three scores of its own in roughly the same span.
An interception and big return from linebacker Jordan Knapp put Plymouth on the Angola 32, and five plays later, Sam Stevens found a seam up the middle for a 20 yard touchdown run that cut the Hornets’ lead to 14-6 with a second remaining in the first frame.
Less than two and a half minutes later, 6-foot-9 sophomore Mack Mercer blocked an Angola punt and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown to cut the Rockies’ deficit to 14-12 at the 9:47 stop of the second quarter, Knapp returned his second interception 46 yards for another score at the 9:29 mark, and Plymouth returned the favor for the Hornets’ two recovered onside kicks with one of its own, to go on a clock-consuming, 14-play, 48-yard touchdown drive capped off by a Stevens 2 yarder that gave the Rockies a 28-14 edge with the ensuing two-point conversion run, again by Stevens.
Plymouth managed one more score in the half as senior captain John Ruff pulled down an interception and returned it 51 yards to the Angola 10 to set up Stevens’ third TD of the night — a 5-yard scamper after a late hit on Ruff during his interception return cut the distance to goal in half — at the 1:26 stop to give the visitors a 35-14 halftime edge.
“I think the team before tonight, we’ve struggled with being down,” said Barron. “Negative plays have kind of escalated on us. I’m really proud of our kids to be down 14 and hang in there and get physical with them up front.”
Ruff made another highlight defensive play on the first snap of the third frame, stripping Angola’s Reese Oberlin and returning the fumble 35 yards for a touchdown that put Plymouth up 42-14 with Knapp’s second PAT of the night.
“We’ve been talking to our kids all year long about creating turnovers,” said Barron. “Tonight to get eight of them – wow, I didn’t even know we had eight. I just know that once good things started happening, the momentum changed and that’s high school kids. Our kids took advantage of it and I think we scored off of most of those.”
Austin Bauer punched in a 47-yard catch and carry from Angola quarterback
Brady Boots — who finished with 322 passing yards on 21-of-44 completions but surrendered four picks to the Plymouth secondary, including three from Knapp — and Spencer Stites kicked his third PAT of the night to bring the score to 42-21 at the 9:53 mark of the third. But again the Rockies went tit for tat when quarterback Ike Kastner hit Chase Peters with a 48-yard catch and carry for the game’s final touchdown with 6:11 remaining, and Knapp’s third and final extra-point kick brought the score to its final margin.
Angola’s spread offense was led by Robby Boots’ five receptions for 105 yards as the senior wide receiver surpassed the career state record for receptions to finish with 208.
Plymouth’s run game was paced by Steven’s 86 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns. Knapp put in an outstanding all around game with 7.5 tackles, three interceptions, 15 rushing yards and three PATs.
“Jordan has been playing better all year,” Barron said. “I thought he played his best defensive game last week, and tonight to have three picks and one for a touchdown. He kicks for us, he’s on both sides of the ball. He’s just a really good football player for us. I was proud of our offensive line, I thought they played really well. I thought Sam Stevens ran the ball really hard, and we just got after them and did things we’ve wanted to do all year long.”
PLYMOUTH 49, ANGOLA 21
Score by quarters
Plymouth: 6 29 7 7 — 49
Angola: 14 0 7 0 — 21
A – Austen Curtis 1-yd run (Spencer Stites kick) 10:45
A – Curtis 1-yd run (Stites kick) 5:33
P – Sam Stevens 20-yd run (kick fail) :01
P – Mack Mercer 51-yd blocked punt return (Rush fail) 9:47
P – Jordan Knapp 46-yd interception return (Stevens rush) 9:29
P – Stevens 2-yd run (Stevens rush) 2:07
P – Stevens 5-yd run (Knapp kick) 1:26
P – John Ruff 35-yd fumble recovery and return (Knapp kick) 11:44
A – Austin Bauer 47-yd pass from Brady Boots (Stites kick) 9:53
P – Chase Peters 48-yd pass from Ike Kastner (Knapp kick) 6:11
Rushing: 48-168; Stevens 31-125, Knapp 4-14, Kastner 5-12
Passing: Kastner 2-4-1 for 84 yds; Ruff 1-1-0 for 16 yds
Receiving: Chase Peters 1-48, David Lee 1-36, Kyser McCrammer 1-16
First downs: 11
Penalties-yds lost: 7-51
Rushing: 28-105; Zack Beebe 8-52, Austin Bauer 4-35, Austen Curtis 9-22
Passing: Brady Boots 21-44-4 for 322 yds
Receiving: Robby Boots 10-153, Bauer 6-110, Reese Oberlin 4-45
First downs: 22
Penalties-yds lost: 5-42
Records: Plymouth 4-6, Angola 5-5 (final)