Rockville hopes to use applied learning in semifinal matchup

·4 min read

Dec. 4—Erick Knickerbocker has challenged his Rockville High football team to learn and take something away from each game during its run to the 2021 Class M semifinals.

As the second-seeded Rams prepare for their clash with No. 6 Torrington Sunday afternoon, however, Knickerbocker hopes his team can draw from a different experience: its 37-point loss in the 2019 Class M semis.

"Hopefully we'll learn from two years ago," Knickerbocker said. "Everything is a learning experience. We've learned a lot of lessons this year, and hopefully a lesson from two years ago and getting prepared."

Rockville (9-2) welcomes the Red Raiders (8-3) to Rockville High Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.

"We're excited," Knickerbocker said. "It's going to be a challenge obviously, and we're really glad that it's here."

Rockville topped No. 7 and Pequot Uncas foe Ellington 27-0 in the quarterfinals Tuesday to clinch its second Class M semifinal berth in as many seasons — the 2020 campaign was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, the Rams entered the semifinals as the unbeaten top-seed before getting romped by eventual state champ Weston 37-0.

Knickerbocker hopes the fact that his team has already tasted defeat this season will give them a different perspective heading into Sunday's game.

"We know what it feels like," he said. "When we've been beat, we've been beat bad. So they understand the ups and downs of a season. I think now, we're just starting to hit our stride at the right time."

Initially, Knickerbocker expected to see the Raiders sooner in the playoffs.

"I did go watch them (on Thanksgiving) because I thought that's who we were going to play," Knickerbocker said. "So, I started watching the game, and then the Gilbert game got crazy, so I left."

Gilbert ended up topping Granby/Canton Thursday morning, allowing Rockville to move past the Bears into second-place, setting up its game with Ellington.

As a result, Knickerbocker wasn't very familiar with Torrington entering this week.

"They looked pretty good," Knickerbocker said. "I don't know much about them right now honestly. One thing all the other coaches will say about me is I'm so superstitious that I won't look ahead or see any of that stuff. So to be honest, I don't know anything."

Torrington earned its semifinal berth by topping No. 3 Granby/Canton 37-29 in the quarterfinals Tuesday. It was the program's first-ever playoff win.

The Raiders scored the go-ahead touchdown with 57.8 seconds to play when Tyler Semonich found Mason Stannard for a 55-yard touchdown pass. Stannard then batted down a Granby/Canton fourth-down pass at the goal line with 5.5 left to clinch it.

Knickerbocker said he felt almost a sense of relief that he didn't have to prepare for another Pequot opponent in Granby/Canton. The Rams beat the Bears 42-0 on Oct. 22.

"To be honest, nothing against the Pequot, but we've been playing these guys all year," Knickerbocker said. "It's going to be a breath of fresh air to focus on someone we haven't played. Granby almost won that game, so it would've been like we're preparing for another thing. It's just an added level of stress. There is some excitement in playing somebody different."

Like it has all season, Rockville will rely heavily on running backs Amir Knighton, De'Shaun Perry and Travon Edmondson for the bulk of its offense Sunday.

Senior quarterback Matt Ryan feels that a Rockville victory Sunday comes down to one thing.

"If we win the physical battle," Ryan said. "Usually, the teams we beat this year, we won the physical battle. I think we won the physical battle (against Ellington)."

As Rockville's "Restore the Rock" campaign continues, Ryan is proud of the progress the Rams have made over the past three seasons. They've made the playoffs each year.

"But we're not finished yet," Ryan added. "I don't think the Rock is restored. We'll figure out after Sunday, and then the Saturday after that, if it's restored."

For coverage of the Connecticut Sun and professional women's basketball, Hartford Athletic pro soccer team, as well as area high school and local youth sports, follow Adam Betz on Twitter: @AdBetz1, Facebook: Adam Betz — Sports Writer, and Instagram: @AdBetzJI.

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