In the weeks leading up to Saturday afternoon’s season opener against Rochester at Longview Memorial Stadium, R.A. Long coach Jon Barker had one thing on his mind, which he reiterated multiple times in the preseason:
“We have to stop Talon Betts.”
He knew what the Lumberjacks needed to do, but actually stopping Betts proved to be a tough task. Betts torched the Jacks on the ground with 17 carries for 198 yards and returned a kickoff for a touchdown on his way to finding the end zone four times on the day. He was the lone difference-maker for the Warriors, who downed the Jacks 42-20 to cap off the opening weekend of football season in Cowlitz County.
“It’s one thing to tell them that he’s fast, it’s another thing for them to see him and go ‘Coach, you weren’t lying,’” Barker said. “It’s hard to simulate that in practice.”
Betts rolled through the Lumberjacks on the opening drive of the game. He broke off for 14 yards, then 22, then 22 again on his way to the end zone to put the Warriors on top early.
The Lumberjack offense was searching for its footing in the early parts of Saturday’s match up. They seemed dedicated to the run early, but Rochester shut the Jacks down and held them scoreless for the opening three quarters of the game. The Jacks were out of sync and it looked every bit like they were fighting the early season jitters for the majority of the game.
Thanks to a fumble on an ill-timed pitch from Warrior QB Landon Hawes, the Jacks were able to hold the Rochester offense at bay for the rest of the first quarter, but Betts made sure it didn’t stay that way very long as he capped a 12-play, 87-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to put the Warriors up 13-0.
Betts found the zone again, breaking tackles on his way to a 31-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to give Rochester a 20-0 lead at halftime.
The Saturday afternoon sun, as opposed to the usual Friday night lights, took some getting used to for the Jacks.
“We kind of came out a little timid in the first (half), it’s warmer than it’s been,” Barker said.
Before RAL found its rhythm, Rochester continued to control the game with its rushing attack, but the Warriors found the end zone through the air with 1:22 left in the third on a 14-yard connection from Hawes to Erik Vasquez that finished off another long, 14-play, seven-plus minute drive for the Warriors.
After rolling over to the fourth, the Jacks — more specifically junior QB Shaun Mize — finally settled in. Mize put the Jacks on the board with a well-placed 17-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver TraMayne Jenkins in the back of the end zone to put RAL in the scoring column. The play was set up thanks to a 41-yard completion from Mize to Aizik Rothwell that saw Mize handle the pressure, step up in the pocket and drop a deep ball right into the hands of Rothwell.
The RAL defense fed off the momentum, and forced a turnover on downs in just four plays to put the offense back on the field, and Mize started throwing the ball with authority. On the first play, Mize found Jamond Harris in broken coverage for a 51-yard touchdown down the sideline and cut the Warrior lead to two scores at 27-12 with over seven minutes remaining.
But after a quiet second half, Betts took his turn again. With the Warriors expecting an onside kick, RAL booted it deep and Betts tracked it down, broke some tackles and found a hole to return it 86 yards to the house, halting RAL’s momentum.
“It’s a teachable moment,” Barker said. “Things are going to start rolling, you’re going to face adversity and you’ve got to check yourself and get back in the game…we came right back and kept swinging again.”
And swing they did. Harris returned the ensuing kickoff to the Warrior 40, where a 15-yard penalty put the Jacks on the 25 to start the drive. With eyes for the end zone, Mize found Israel Rutherford on a fade from 25-yards out to cut the lead back down to 15 at 35-20 with 6:32 still on the clock.
“We started passing the ball more and everybody brought the intensity in the second half,” Mize said of RAL’s fourth quarter surge. “First game, I came out, I was a little nervous I guess you could say, but everything started clicking.”
Rochester ran the clock down and scored with two minutes remaining to put the game to bed for good, but the Jacks were able to finish on a high note.
“I’m really proud of them,” Barker said. “We didn’t hang our heads, we kept slugging, we kept fighting.”
Mize finished 11-of-17 for 198 yards and three TDs through the air to lead the RAL offense.
Outside of Betts and his 250-plus yards of total offense, the Jacks shut down much of the Rochester attack. The Jacks also won the turnover battle and didn’t give away the rock, something any team can be proud of in the opening week of the season.
“Didn’t give the baby away, stole the baby once,” Barker said.
In five games during the winter season, RAL put up 34 points in total. On Saturday, they put up 20 in a single quarter, prompting optimism from both coaches and players.
“It’s huge,” Mize said. “You can already tell everyone’s ready to go now.”
But the Jacks are still hungry for their first win in nearly two calendar years.
“We keep preaching that the dubs are coming,” Barker said. “We’ve got to steal them from people, they aren’t going to give them to us.”
R.A. Long (1-0) will keep searching for that win next week against Franklin Pierce on Friday.