ROCKTON - With both teams sporting 5-2 records in the NIC-10 heading into Friday night's showdown at Kelsey Field, post-season ramifications were definitely on the line.
For Hononegah seniors like linebacker Lucas Hale, the motivation was a lot simpler than that. Their 57-34 victory over Rockford Auburn assured them of winning their final regular-season game at home- and perhaps the last time they'll play there at all.
"We had a big talk with all the seniors before the game and we knew that potentially this could be our last game on this field," said Hale, who led the Indians with five solo tackles, eight assists and a sack. "We all tried to enjoy every moment of it."
Hononegah head coach Brian Zimmerman knew his team would have to somehow offset Auburn's terrific team speed. The Knights wasted no time using it as Ja'Quan Brady connected with Davonte Stanfield on a 49-yard touchdown strike on just their fourth play of the contest.
As good as they started, the Knights couldn't put up any more points in the first half, punting on five straight possessions.
Hononegah answered with 29 unanswered points in the first half, rolling up 271 yards of offense as quarterback Payton Mather, who connected on his first seven passes, hit 18-of-27 for 172 yards.
The Indians picked up where they left off in the second half, boosting their lead to 43-8 in the third quarter when Mather connected with Mason Adams on an 18-yard touchdown play. Mather finished the game 24-of-34 for 234 yards and three touchdowns, also finding Kendall Cross on an 11-yard strike and Isiah Zawlocki with a 25-yard score. His favorite target, Braden Sayles, didn't find the end zone, but caught nine passes for 90 yards.
"Offensively, we did a great job moving the ball and getting first downs," Zimmerman said. "Mather is really coming into his own. Our backs ran hard and our offensive line did a great job."
The only bad news for the Indians was a huge hiccup by the defense in the fourth quarter. Auburn put up a touchdown in the third quarter on a 90-yard kickoff return by Stanfield and then Brady went to work in the fourth. He and Stanfield collaborated on a 61-yard TD pass and capped off two other quick scoring drives with TD runs of 7 and 1 yard.
"We got a little sloppy out there, but we'll learn from it and move on," Hale said. "We always want to get better no matter what. I think we just made some mistakes in the fourth quarter and missed some tackles. But we still won and I'm happy."
Zimmerman said overall the team is in a very positive place.
"Sure, we gave up some points at the end," he said. "Auburn can make some big plays. They have some athletes. That was tough on us because our defense takes a lot of pride in not giving up points. They were doing a great job and it's tough to have a couple of miscues there. That's where we need to improve come playoff time."
• BOXSCORE: HONONEGAH 57, ROCKFORD AUBURN 34
Hononegah....15 14 14 14 - 57
Rockford Auburn. 8 0 6 20 - 34
RA -- Stanfield, 49, pass from Brady (Brady run)
Hon -- Gomez, 1, run (Gomez run)
Hon -- Collins, 15, run (Goodwine kick)
Hon -- Cross, 11, pass from Mather (Goodwine kick)
Hon -- Gomez, 4 run (Goodwine kick)
Hon -- Zawlocki, 25, pass from Mather (Goodwine kick)
Hon -- Adams, 18, pass from Mather (Goodwine kick)
RA -- Stanfield, 90, kickoff return (Brady run)
Hon -- Gomez, 2, run (Hale kick)
RA -- Brady, 7, run (run failed)]
RA -- Brady, 1, run (Stanfield, pass from Brady)
Hon -- Collins, 45, run (Hale kick)
TEAM STATS: First downs -- RA 16, Hon 28. Rushing -- RA 29-39, Hon 30-258. Passing -- RA 286, Hon 234. Passes -- RA 30-18-1, Hon 35-24-1. Punts -- RA 5-28.4, HOn 1-34.0. Fumbles -- RA 3-0, Hon 2-1. Penalties -- RA 10-103, Hon 4-50.
INDIVIDUAL STATS: Rushing -- RA, Key 3-20, Brady 19-19, Williams 2-13, Huntley 8-(-13). Hon, Gomez 16-141, Collins 10-86, Goodwine 2-37. Passing -- RA, Brady 30-18-1, 286. Hon, Mather 35-24-1, 234. Receiving -- RA, Stanfield 6-189, Williams 4-56, Meadows 6-46. Hon, Sayles 9-90, Cross 5-36, Zawlocki 4-49, Adams 3-25.