If it’s the duty of a quarterback to carry his team on his shoulders, then Tyler Rock earned that attribute Friday night at Max Clunie field.
His St. Mary Marauders ultimately fell 37-23 to the Saskatoon Bethlehem Stars in what was the school’s last home game of the year.
The loss wasn’t for lack of effort on Rock’s part.
He took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from a Stars defender in the second quarter, limped off the field with the help of trainers and then returned in the third quarter to eventually lead the Marauders’ offence to within a touchdown of tying the game, little more than three minutes remaining.
It was his nine-yard touchdown pass to Grant Alexander at 8:36 of the final quarter that narrowed the Stars lead to 30-22. The converted PAT made it 30-23.
The Marauders’ special teams then took over: They squibbed an onside kick, saw it bounce under and off the hands of two Stars returners, and then they recovered it to keep the St. Mary offence on the field.
But undisciplined penalties, a ferocious Bethlehem defensive line and an inconsistent Marauder run game prevented St. Mary from finishing.
Even after throwing for two touchdowns and 161 yards, an emotional Rock was quick to shift compliments to his dual-threat running backs, Ashton Hall and Nick Otto-Love.
“I think we have probably one of the best 1-2 punches in the backfield in the whole entire league, as far as I’m concerned,” he said after the loss, which was beginning to sink in.
Holding back tears, Rock said “They really played their hearts out. That’s all I could ask,” as if he wanted to do more for the win in the final three minutes.
“It’s a tough loss for everybody,” Otto-Love said after the game. His 20-yard touchdown run at 2:53 of the first quarter helped his team take the early lead. Hall finished the game with 94 rushing yards on six attempts to lead his team on the ground, but he had no touchdowns.
“Our offence came out really good at the start. And then we started to lag a bit in the second quarter and started taking some bad penalties.
“Those mistakes are fixable. There’s nothing we can do about that now, but we had a lot of chances to win this game,” Otto-Love said.
The Marauders and the Stars took an equal amount of penalties – 11 – but it was the home side that seemed to form a habit earning infractions while their offence was on the field.
That effectively killed the momentum that Rock, Hall, Otto-Love and Alexander generated during drives.
Hall was effective in bowling over defenders, as was Otto-Love in evading them. And Rock connected with Alexander on a spectacular 20-plus-yard catch where Alexander jumped and beat the defender for the ball.
But those penalties and the Stars’ front-seven on defence wound up stifling a St. Mary comeback.
Marauders’ head coach Curt Hundeby had a similar assessment as that of his players.
“We weren’t disciplined like we needed to be. We just didn’t finish. We had guys open and we didn’t squeeze the ball. We had opportunities to make plays and we didn’t tackle. Just all over. We just didn’t finish,” he said.
The Stars bested the Marauders on the ground, running for 222 total yards. St. Mary tallied 164.
The Saskatoon squad relied on their own 1-2 rushing threat. John Contreras and Alfred Mendoza each rushed for 87 yards – Contreras on nine carries, earning two touchdowns, and Mendoza on eight carries with one touchdown.
Bethlehem’s offensive coaches effectively called handoffs, fake handoffs and lots of pre-snap motion to create space in the Marauders defence for the two backs to gain yards.
Then there was the escape-ability of Stars quarterback Artem Doroshenko. Not only did he have the tenacity to escape the pocket once it collapsed on him, courtesy the Maruaders’ pressure, he had the poise to make accurate throws on the run.
He finished the game with 167 passing yards on six completions of 17 attempts with one touchdown. He also threw one interception. But it was Doroshenko’s knack for escaping pressure that created even more space in the Marauders’ defence.
“Overall, they played a tighter game than we did from start to finish,” Hundeby said.
The Marauders finish their regular season at 2-5. They now await how they’ll be drawn into the playoffs, which start next week. Bethlehem finishes the regular season with a 3-4 record.