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The playoffs are a brand new season and Rockwood Middle School proved that Thursday night at Eagleton.
During the regular season, Eagleton handed the Tigers a 22-12 setback, but the Tigers were in complete control Thursday as they rolled to a 22-8 victory.
"We were more prepared for this game," Rockwood coach Bryan Powers said after the game. "We had a good week of practice and we knew this time that we had to take No. 31 (Eagleton's Nick Cutler) away from them."
Another reason for Rockwood's improved play was the return of TE/DB Brendan Kirkland. Kirkland did play the first time the two teams met, but he caught two touchdown passes on offense Thursday while picking off three Royal passes and recovering a fumble on defense.
"He (Kirkland) is a difference maker," Powers said. "He gives us a deep threat down the field. But a big reason why we could throw was that we were able to run the ball early."
Rockwood opened Thursday's game by forcing an Eagleton punt and then the Tigers marched 72 yards in 10 plays before QB Cameron Webster found Kirkland alone in the end zone for an eight-yard scoring toss.
Rockwood's first 64 yards of the drive all came on the ground.
Ethan Headrick ran in the conversion for Rockwood, making the score 8-0 with 24 seconds left in the opening quarter.
After a Royal three-and-out, Rockwood marched 54 yards in just four plays with Webster and Kirkland hooking up from 30 yards away to make the score 14-0 with 5:25 left in the first half.
Rockwood's two-point try was no good.
Rockwood had another chance to score on their next possession as Kirkland recovered a fumble at the Eagleton 34, but three penalties helped kill the drive as Eagleton took over on downs at their own 21.
Eagleton, however, fumbled again on their own 26, giving Rockwood one more chance to score with 15 seconds left in the half.
Rockwood threw three passes to the end zone with no success, but Webster ran it in from 26 yards on the final play of the half.
Webster then passed to Hayden Freels for the conversion as the Tigers led 22-0 at halftime.
The second half would see the Royals playing much better.
After forcing a three-and-out to start the third period, Eagleton drove 56 yards in nine plays with Cutler finding the end zone from one yard out.
Eagleton was also successful on their two-point conversion as they cut Rockwood's lead to 22-8 with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
Rockwood fumbled away their next possession, but Kirkland picked off his first pass of the night to stop the Royal drive.
Rockwood's next two drives also failed to pick up a first down, but it would not matter as Kirkland picked off passes on Eagleton's next two drives to end the game.
Up next for Rockwood was Tuesday's game at Cherokee. Like Eagleton, Cherokee defeated the Tigers in the regular season.
"We've got to be patient offensively and protect the football against Cherokee," Powers said. "The first time we played them we got behind 14-0 only four or five minutes into the game. We've got to play better this time."
Rushing- Webster 8-51 with 1 TD, Freels 1-4, Campbell 7-40, Headrick 10-40.
Passing- Webster 3-10 for 55 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT., Headrick 1-2 for 6 yards.
Receiving- Webster 1-6, Headrick 1-17, Kirkland 2-38 with 2 TDs.