When Rose Hill quarterback T.J. Slade donned the scepter and crown during halftime of the football game, it was symbolic of the entire evening.
The Homecoming king had already protected his kingdom with a brilliant first half against Winfield as the Rockets made their first statement in anointing themselves as players in the 4A state title chase.
But every smart leader surrounds himself with a trustworthy supporting cast. On this night, Slade confided in receiver Bret Waddell, as the pair hooked up for three touchdowns in a 28-12 victory.
“We want to run the ball, actually. If we need to, we go to pass,” Slade said. “He's one of my guys I like to look to. He's pretty tall – 6'3”, 6'4” - and he can definitely catch the ball.”
The Rockets went on the offensive early, guided by the return of Jonny Pearson after missing the previous week's game against McPherson. On the first play from scrimmage, Pearson scampered 70 yards to put the Rockets ahead 7-0.
Winfield twice looked capable of battling with the Rockets, as two drives cut deep into Rose Hill territory. However, one stalled with a turnover on downs, while an illegal block in the back negated a would-be touchdown reception for Brandon Rolo on another.
Capitalizing on the opportunity, Slade found Waddell in the left corner of the end zone from nine yards out to put Rose Hill ahead 14-0 on the first play of the second quarter. When the Vikings fumbled late in the quarter, Slade hit Waddell again, this time in stride for a 36-yard score and a 21-0 edge into halftime.
“When we were passing earlier in the night, they were running deep coverage,” Waddell said. “We had them cheat up with the shorter routes, then we just faked the short route and aired it out long.”
A grinding drive to start the second half ended when Sam Camp busted into the end zone from a yard out to trim the Winfield deficit to 21-6. Isaiah Amezcua took the Vikings into scoring position by smashing together 67 rush yards on the drive.
Rose Hill answered a minute later as Slade connected with Waddell a third time for a 26-yard touchdown.
The Vikings responded with a 74-yard play action touchdown pass from Camp to Aubrey Herlocker, but the scoring surge abruptly stopped soon after.
Waddell hindered the threat of a comeback with an interception late in the fourth quarter. A sack by Garrett Forsberg later stalled the Vikings final push.
Rose Hill (1-3) secured its first victory of the season, doing so against the previously undefeated Vikings (3-1).
“That's a really big win,” Waddell said. “I think we could have played with all three teams that we lost to, but we're just going to try to come off this win and beat Mulvane next week.”
A showdown with the Wildcats (4-0) will be a litmus test for whether the Rockets can defend their 4A state title.
“It's going to be a physical game,” said Rose Hill head coach Greg Slade. “It's a rivalry.”
A win in Mulvane could expand T.J.'s leadership grasp with a triumph in foreign territory.
“We need to watch as much film as we can,” T.J. said. “We have to be fired up.
“We're going to have to come onto their field and beat them.”