Defense, Grace propel Rockets
TOLONO — The Monticello Sages still are chasing their elusive white rabbit.
In a game of two different styles — power and speed — the Sages and Unity Rockets played to a near stalemate Friday night.
Monticello’s offense garnered only 148 yards, while Unity’s Conner Grace accounted for most of the Rockets’ offense, including the game’s only touchdown, an 11-yard run late in the first quarter of a 7-0 Unity win.
The victory was much needed for the Rockets (5-2) after losing to St. Teresa the week before.
“I came out and I definitely wasn’t working for that 4-3,” Grace said. “I wanted that 5-2 with Clinton and Shelbyville coming up. It gives us a chance to be 7-2 and maybe get that home playoff game.”
Grace was true to his intentions, practically carrying the Rockets’ offense on his back like he had so many times in his career. The senior rushed for 173 yards on 36 carries and allowed Unity to run off large chunks of clock late in the game.
“We knew with Monticello that they’re a great defensive team. We’d have to play hard and focus all week during practice to prepare,” Grace said. “We came out and our defense played great. We played physical, more physical than them, and that’s what got us the ‘W. ’ ”
Unity’s defense shut down Monticello all game to the tune of a shutout, but the first half was downright dominant. The Sages managed 49 yards of total offense while committing 43 yards in penalties. No matter what the Sages tried, it wasn’t working.
The second half proved a little better as sophomore quarterback Brandon Wildman took over for senior starter Sam Parrish. Wildman found receiver Josh Burton for a 51-yard pass on their second possession of the half. That one play went for more yards than Monticello’s entire first-half output.
Unity’s Taylor White grabbed three interceptions for the Rockets, picking off Wildman’s final attempt to seal the victory.
Burton was the Sages’ lone bright spot on offense, finishing with a season-high nine catches for 116 yards.
Sages coach Cully Welter was frustrated with the inefficiency on offense.
“I thought our defense stuck in there pretty good for most of the game, but we just couldn’t get points,” Welter said. “We got a couple big plays on offense, and we just couldn’t convert them into points.”
The loss dropped Monticello to 6-1. The Sages are still playoff bound, but the loss to Unity will sting for a team that hasn’t beaten the Rockets for a long time — and all of Welter’s time as head coach.
“This is the best team we’ve played this year. Do we have some issues overcoming the dominance they’ve had against us? Unquestionably, we do,” Welter said. “I still believe in the guys. We just have to go back to the drawing board.”
On the other side, it was a different vibe for the Rockets coming into this showdown against Monticello. Many thought the Sages had the better team this season, especially after Unity’s blowout home loss to a very good Maroa-Forsyth squad and last week’s defeat to St. Teresa.
“I try not to pay attention to the newspapers,” Grace said. “I mean, everybody said Monticello was going to beat us. We’re not used to being the underdogs, but it was a nice change. We came out and we played like underdogs and still got the win. I’m proud. It doesn’t matter if we’re an underdog or not, as long as we win the game that’s the most important thing.”
Okaw Valley Black
TEAM CONF. OVERALL
St. Teresa 3 0 5 2
Monticello 2 1 6 1
Unity 2 1 5 2
Shelbyville 2 1 3 4
Sullivan/Okaw Valley 0 3 2 4
Clinton 0 3 1 6
NEXT FRIDAY’S GAMES
Unity at Clinton
Sullivan/Okaw Valley at St. Teresa
Monticello at Shelbyville
Okaw Valley Blue
TEAM CONF. OVERALL
Maroa-Forsyth 3 0 7 0
Argenta-Oreana 2 1 5 2
Tuscola 2 1 4 3
Warrensburg-Latham 2 1 2 5
Central A&M 0 3 1 6
Meridian 0 3 1 6
NEXT FRIDAY’S GAMES
Warrensburg-Latham at Argenta-Oreana
Tuscola at Meridian
Central A&M at Maroa-Forsyth