The Craig County Rockets didn’t win a football game this year, but they ended the season with a lot better team than they began with.
Craig dropped a 34-13 decision to Pioneer District rival Eastern Montgomery in a spirited game last Friday night at New Castle’s Mitchell Field. Both teams had players ejected from the game for rough play, and with a small roster that didn’t help Craig County’s cause.
“Both teams were getting into it,” said Craig Coach Mark Harrison. “There was a lot of talking going on, but that’s not how we want to play football. We’re slowly changing the culture around here.”
Craig also had two players out with injuries, so Harrison was left scrambling to fill positions by the second half.
“Both of our centers were hurt and we had a couple snaps sail over the quarterback’s head that hurt us,” he said. “I was just trying to find bodies to fill spots. We’re going to struggle as long as we have these low numbers. That’s a priority for next year, to get more kids excited about playing football for Craig County.”
Craig’s touchdowns came on a 22 yard run by Kyle Sloss and a 45 yard run by Ben Deplazes. Noah Reynolds kicked an extra point and Craig failed on a two-point attempt following the second score.
The Rockets gave up a couple cheap ones. East Mont scored on a 40 yard interception return and also recovered a fumble in the end zone.
“We were in the game,” said Harrison. “If you saw the Tech game against Miami Saturday night, our game was a lot like that. We’d have a nice drive and then we’d do something to hurt ourselves. At the beginning of the game we were playing real well, I thought we were going to win it. But as the game went along anything that could go wrong, did.”
Craig finished with 230 yards rushing, which was a season high. Deplazes had 95 yards on six attempts, Dakota Henderson had 50 yards on 12 carries, Sloss had 45 on four and Dalton McPherson ran for 40 yards on seven attempts in a balanced Craig attack.
On defense Dakota Henderson led the team with 11 tackles. McPherson had nine, Deplazes had seven, Chase Huffman had five and Sloss had four. Dakota Henderson, Dalton Henderson, Brandon Swingle and Huffman all had tackles for losses and McPherson had a sack.
The loss was Craig’s 27th straight and the Rockets are now 5-45 in the past five years. They haven’t won more than two games in a season since making the playoffs in 2012 when they went 4-6 during the regular season, but that doesn’t discourage Harrison one bit. After one season in charge he sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
“There’s a lot to this program people can’t see,” he said. “This was the toughest coaching job I’ve ever had. This program was torn down and I had to deal with a lot of issues, but these kids want to win. If I didn’t think they wanted a program here, I wouldn’t stay, but I’m in for the long haul.
“I think we took two steps forward this year,” he continued. “We’re a whole lot better now than we were at the beginning of the season, and these kids will be more confident next year with a little stability. I didn’t have much of an off-season to work with after getting hired late, and this year we’re going to start right in getting bigger, stronger and faster.”
While Craig didn’t win any games, the Rockets did manage to score 130 points compared to just 20 in 2016. They gave up 330 points this year, and that’s down from 466 in 2016. That’s an improvement of about two touchdowns on both sides of the ball.
“We could have won some games,” said Harrison. “There were three or four games where we just came up short due to lack of experience. I would see one of our kids make a great play, and then we’d give up a bad one. It was just lack of experience.”
The Rockets lose just three seniors, and one was a first year player. A very young line should be much improved next year and the Rockets had some solid skill players who will return.
“We had a lot of ninth graders and sophomores,” said Harrison. “They were usually outsized, but they’ll be bigger next year and they showed me they want to win. We made a lot of progress, and if we can get some numbers I still think there’s a bright future here.”