WELLSVILLE — Kole Rogers told anyone who would listen that he was going to make a big play on Friday.
Scratch that. He told his teammates during practice this week he was going to make several big plays.
“I was just trying to get the team riled up,” the Iola High senior defensive back said.
Mustang head coach David Daugharthy chuckled at Rogers’ pledge. “He told us all week he was going to make plays. We were a little skeptical.”
Boy, did Rogers deliver.
In what’s becoming something of a habit, Rogers put Iola in the catbird seat Friday, with a pair of interception returns for touchdowns in a 20-6 win over host Wellsville.
The victory gives Iola a 2-1 record as it heads into the most critical part of the season, with Class 3A district play starting next week. The Mustangs host Frontenac next Friday at Riverside Park.
“Kole played a heck of a game, and made two really big plays,” Daugharthy said. “It helped us out a lot.”
Rogers’ first pick came on Wellsville’s opening drive of the contest. The Eagles had started near midfield, and had advanced to the Mustang 20 before Rogers stepped in front of an Ayden Kearney pass along the left sideline. And when the Wellsville receiver stumbled while Rogers made the pick, it was off to the races.
Rogers streaked down the sideline in front of a delirious Iola bench, giving the Mustangs a quick 6-0 lead.
Fast-forward to midway through the second quarter, when Wellsville stopped a golden scoring opportunity for Iola with an end zone interception of its own.
The Eagles then marched 42 yards over their next 7 plays — all on the ground — to advance to the Iola 38.
It was deja vu all over gain.
Kearney was just off with his pass, giving Rogers a clear line on the ball in front of a stumbling receiver. This time, he zipped untouched about 70 yards to paydirt.
The final critical sequence came on the next possession for both teams.
Wellsville took its ensuing possession deep into Iola territory once again, advancing to the Mustang 20 with about 2 minutes left, before two running plays lost a combined five yards, followed by two straight Kerney incompletions to give Iola possession at its 25 with 1:44 left in the half.
With no timeouts at his disposal, it was up to senior quarterback Bradyn Cole to make good decisions against a defense primed for passes.
Cole did just that, connecting with five receivers, and adding an 11-yard scramble to boot, over the next 104 seconds.
Cole connected with Drake Sellman from 9 yards away (and with :00 showing on the scoreboard clock) to give the Mustangs a 20-0 lead at intermission.
“That was the best drive I’ve been a part of since I’ve been head coach, to go 70-80 yards like that,” Daugharthy said.
(Officially it was 75.)
“Bradyn did a good job of trying to distribute the ball,” Daugharthy said. “We’ve been working with him a lot to just go with the guy that’s open. ‘Make your pre-snap reads, and your post-snap reads, and whoever’s going to be open, just throw it, and trust who it’s going to be.’ We’re away from the days of saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw it to this kid.’ I think we’re finally getting past that.
“Once we start catching the ball … and focusing on fundamentals, this offense is really going to be clicking,” he added.
To wit, eight different Mustangs pulled in receptions in the game, none of whom had more than three catches.
Wellsville didn’t go down without a fight.
The Eagles opened the third quarter with an eight-play, 57-yard drive, capped by a 14-yard pass from Kearney to Jacob Lee on fourth-and-nine.
The Mustang defense put down the clamps from there, holding Wellsville without a first down the rest of the way. Two Eagle possessions ended with Iola interceptions, the first coming from Jarrett Herrman with 8:03 left in the game, the second by Aiden Jones on a tipped pass in the game’s final seconds.
“It was a matter of don’t let them score, and keep it up,” Rogers said.
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
Penalties and dropped passes continued to thwart potential scoring chances, and Iola came up empty after blocking a Wellsville punt that gave the Mustangs possession at the Wellsville 7. (Lee intercepted a Cole pass in the end zone to give the Eagles possession once again.)
But Iola’s defense made sure there was no Wellsville comeback. The Mustangs wound up with four interceptions on the night.
Dylon Reiter recovered a key fumble for the Mustangs early in the game when Wellsville was threatening, and Logan Brown blocked an Eagle punt.
And after keying on stopping Iola’s rushing attack early, Wellsville’s defense tired in the latter portions of the game.
Iola took full advantage with Trent Jones and Herrmann both chewing up the clock with hard-earned yards to seal the win.
“That was a big boost, being able to move the ball on the ground,” Daugharthy said. “They game-planned us pretty well. We ran Trent 34 times last week, and they knew that’s what we wanted to do. Credit them. They got us out of our game plan.”
Cole completed 15 of 28 passes for 156 yards, while rushing for 38 yards. Jones had 22 yards on nine carries. Sellman had 38 yards on two receptions, while Karson Sigg’s two catches covered 30 yards. Dillon Slaven and Jones each had 17 yards receiving.
Iola — Rogers 82 yd interception return (pass failed)
Iola — Rogers 70 yd interception return (pass failed)
Iola — Sellman 9 yd pass from Cole (Cole run)
Wellsville — Lee 14 yd pass from Kearney (run failed)
Passing: Iola — Cole 15-26-156; Wellsville — Kearney 5-16-37
Rushing: Iola — Cole 4-38, Herrmann 3-4, Jones 9-22; Wellsville — Bird 10-56, McCarty 1-(-2), Money 12-9, Kearney 13-77, Hunsaker 1-10.
Receiving: Iola — Taylor 3-10, Hutton 1-21, Fager 1-15, Sigg 2-30, Jones 2-17, Slaven 3-17, Sellman 2-38, Willis 1-8.