ROCKTON, Ill. - Hononegah head coach Brian Zimmerman says he occasionally has to "light a fire" under senior wide receiver Kendall Cross.
Friday wasn't one of those nights. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder was absolutely torrid on his own, burning Rockford East for three touchdown receptions in a 42-26 NIC-10 and Homecoming victory at Kelsey Field.
"I'm glad to see him get the touchdowns because he did a great job and he was due," Zimmerman said. "There were a couple of other times he was open and we didn't get him the ball."
Despite some big-time numbers by Cross (3 receptions, 99 yards, 3 TDs), quarterback Payton Mather (23-13-0, 252 yards) and running back Christian Gomez (14 carries, 110 yards), it was an uneven performance by the unbeaten Indians (4-0) on both sides of the ball.
While they piled up 24 first downs and 469 yards of offense the Indians also fumbled four times, losing two, and were flagged several times for holding. Hononegah had nine penalties for 78 yards.
"We can't have that many penalties and we can't turn the ball over," Zimmerman said. "Those are mistakes we can't make. On defense we missed a lot of tackles and showed we've had some injuries on the defensive line."
The Indians were tormented by the NIC-10's leading rusher, Tay Lake, who started his night off with a 79-yard burst for a touchdown on the game's first play. He later returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score and tacked on a 5-yard TD run with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter to bring his team within 35-20. That was his 19th carry of the game and put him at 197 yards.
While the Indians couldn't stop him, he halted himself. After his third TD, the officials decided his celebration warranted an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Since it was his second of the game, he was ejected.
The Indians didn't waste any time answering the score. Mather threw a 54-yard bomb to Cross for a score that pushed it back to 42-20 as Bryce Goodwine booted his fourth PAT of the contest.
"That ball was in the air for so long," Cross said. "I knew it would be there. We've been doing this since our freshman year. It's kind of routine. We know what we have to do on offense. It's just a matter of executing."
East tacked on another fourth quarter TD, which just made the score a little closer and gave Zimmerman and his staff some ammunition for next week's practices, leading up to a showdown at home with equally unbeaten Rockford Boylan.
"I thought East played hard and gave us a great game," Zimmerman said. "We hold our kids to a high standard and it's tough for them to be perfect every week. As coaches we have to strive for that. Here the kids get a win but because we gave up some points and we had some miscues we'll portray it as not a good thing. They got the 'W' and should be happy."
After a scoreless first quarter in which Gomez lost a fumble into the end zone that East recovered, the Indians pinned the E-Rabs deep in their own territory. Hononegah took over after a punt at the East 35 and a great block by Braden Sayles sprung Sam Whitaker for a 19-yard reception. Sayles took it in on the next play only to have it wiped out by a penalty.
So it just took the Indians a little longer. Five plays later, Gomez crashed in from the one. Kicker Goodwine took a direct snap and raced into the end zone for a two-point conversion and an 8-6 lead the Indians would never relinquish.
Hononegah tacked on two more second-quarter scores, traveling 80 yards in five plays on the first, capped by a 30-yard TD run by Gomez. An interception by Connor Ellis set up the second. Gomez took it 24 yards to the 6 and Dylan Collins scored from there. Goodwine's kick was wide, leaving it 21-6 at the half.
A nice kickoff return to start the second half by Gomez gave the Indians the ball at their 48. After another TD run was nullified by a penalty, this time 30 yards by Mason Adams, Hononegah needed eight plays to score. Mather hit Ashton Banke for 17 yards, setting up an 11-yard bullet to Cross in the end zone to make it 28-6.
A interception by Whitaker at the East 45 led to Mather's 34-yard TD strike to Cross. Goodwine's kick made it 35-6, although Lake did return the ensuing kickoff for a score and ran in the conversion as well to make it 35-14 heading to the fourth quarter.
• NOTES: The Indians played without injured defensvie linemen Adam Humphries and Sam Scott. East's Tyson Davidson had 61 yards on seven carries and a TD. ...East QB C.J. Barry was 2-of-16 for 19 yards with two picks. ...Hononegah's Joey Dingilio was in on 12 tackles (3 solos, 9 assists). Lucas Hale was in on 11 and Goodwine nine.
Rockford East..6 0 14 6 - 26
Hononegah....0 21 14 7 - 42
RE -- Tay Lake, 79, run (kick failed)
Hono -- Christian Gomez, 1, run (Bryce Goodwine run)
Hono -- Gomez, 30, run (Goodwine kick)
Hono -- Dylan Collins, 7, run (kick failed)
Hono -- Kendall Cross, 11, pass from Mather (Goodwine kick)
Hono -- Cross, 34, pass from Mather (Goodwine kick)
RE -- Lake, 90, kickoff return (Lake run)
RE -- Lake, 5, run (run failed)
Hono -- Cross, 54, pass from Mather (Goodwine kick)
RE -- Tyson Davidson, 8, run (run failed)
TEAM STATISTICS: First downs -- RE 16, Hono 24. Rushing -- RE 54-385, Hono 39-217. Passing -- RE 19, Hono 252. Passes -- RE 16-2-2, Hono 23-13-0. Punts -- RE 3-17.3, Hono 1-37.0. Fumbles -- RE 6-0, Hono 4-2. Penalties -- RE 10-95, Hono 9-78.
INDIVIDUAL LEADERS: Rushing -- RE, Lake 19-197, Davidson 7-61. Hono, Gomez 14-110, Collins 14-64, Mason Adams 4-32. Passing -- RE, CJ Berry 16-2-2, 19, Hono, Mather 23-13-0, 252. Receiving -- Hono, Cross 3-99, Braden Sayles 3-25, Collins 2-34, Banker 2-37.