Tiger coach Jeff Miller—who is a stickler for doing things the right way—says that just this once, it’s okay.
“Heck, I think one of them was on me, I was leading them down the sideline.”
A spirited Big Blue team earned a spot in the state playoffs by crushing Caldwell 43-12 in the regular season finale at Tigerland Field in a win-or-stay-home situation.
The 5-5 Tigers finished in a tie for second with Taylor at 2-2 behind Navasota (10-0, 4-0), the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A.
Rockdale will tackle District 17-3A c0-champion Lorena (8-2) in Region III bi-district action Friday at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen (see story above).
The Tigers have now won their last regular season game six seasons in a row and five of those have been for a playoff slot.
And according to Miller, the enthusiasm was encouraged.
“They understood the importance of the game,” he said. “We spent a lot of time as coaches last week dealing in motivation.
“They’ve been pretty excited all week and we came out of the dressing room just floating.
“It goes back to what we had been preaching all week. We had to have that intensity. We had to have that enthusiasm.”
Even when Caldwell mounted an early goal line stand and the Tigers found themselves trailing 6-2 in the second quarter, their confidence never waned and they reeled off 35 straight points, including 27 in the second quarter to put the game out of reach.
Facing fourth-and-seven with 3 minutes, 56 seconds left in the first half at its own 47-yard line, the Hornets tried a fake punt, handing the ball to lineman Austin Grimes who was smothered by the swarming Tiger defense.
Eight plays later, Brinkley pushed over from the two to make it 22-6.
Then, on the Hornets’ first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, receiver Colton Lilie fumbled and Austin Caffey came up with the ball to set up another quick score.
With a plan to just complete a short pass, call a timeout and attempt a field goal, Clayton Gibbs threw a monkey wrench into those conservative plans.
Gibbs hauled in a short pass from Brinkley alright, but dodged and pushed his way towards the end zone, carrying several Caldwell players on his back as he crossed the goal line to complete the 40-yard scoring play and leave the halftime score 29-6.
Gibbs was mauled by his teammates on the field, thus drawing the first of two celebration penalties.
“ That sequence f lipped the game,” Miller said. “Once he started breaking tackles and decided he was going to score, he had to score because the clock was running out.
“What an outstanding individ- ual effort.”
The Tigers added on a 10-yard Brinkley to Caffey connection in the third quarter for a 36-6 lead and then Brinkley logged his fourth touchdown pass of the evening when he found Darius Ford in the corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter to make the final 43-12.
Brinkley finished with 222 yards on 19-of-29 accuracy, while Gibbs grabbed five passes for 75 yards and two scores.
Almost forgotten in all the pass catching exploits, Elijah Brooks broke free for 138 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.
Playing their first game without injured All-State linebacker James David in the middle, the Big Blue responded by stuffing the Hornet running game with just 35 yards on 27 attempts.
Caldwell quarterback tried to make up for the lack of a running attack, completing 19-of-29 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, but the sophomore was also picked off twice.
Caldwell completes its second straight one-win season at 1-8 and 1-3 in district play.
“Obviously we’re excited, just to watch these young kids compete,” Miller said. “After what we’ve been through this year, we earned everything we got and these kids deserve it.”
TIGER SEASON RESULTS (5-5)
Rockdale 35, Salado 21
Rockdale 24, Burnet 17
Cameron 34, Rockdale 0
Liberty Hill 76, Rockdale 35
Smithville 27, Rockdale 0
Rockdale 27, Hillsboro 15
Taylor 34, Rockdale 38 (3 OTs)
Rockdale 45, Madisonville 13
Navasota 43, Rockdale 0
Rockdale 43, Caldwell 12
ROCKDALE—Safety, Caelin Goss tackled
in end zone
CALDWELL—Antwan Heath 6 pass from
Brett Gilchrist (run failed)
ROCKDALE—Clayton Gibbs 16 pass from
Ethan Brinkley (kick failed)
ROCKDALE—Elijah Brooks 7 run (Noe
ROCKDALE—Brinkley 2 run (Zelaya kick)
ROCKDALE—Gibbs 40 pass from Brinkley
(Zelaya kick) :00
ROCKDALE—Austin Caffey 10 pass from
Brinkley (Zelaya kick)
CALDWELL—Johnathon Jackson 27 pass
from Gilchrist (pass failed)
ROCKDALE—Darius Ford 11 pass from
Brinkley (Zelaya kick)
RUSHING—ROCKDALE: Brooks 20-138
TD, Ramey 16-85, Baldavia 1-12, Brinkley
3-5. CALDWELL: Heath 4-19.
PASSING—ROCKDALE: Brinkley 19-29-
0, 222 yards, 4TD. CALDWELL: Gilchrist
17-29-2, 199 yards, 2TD.
RECEIVING—ROCKDALE: Gibbs 5-75 2TD,
Trejo 3-44, Caffey 3-40 TD, Walton 2-22,
Loth 1-18, Burton 1-13, Hernandez, 1-8,
Ford 1-8, Burgess 1-0, Ramey 1-(-6)..
CALDWELL: Jackson 10-138.
TACKLES—Hayes 8, Baldavia 7, Gibbs 6,
Caffey 6, Trejo 6, Hernandez 5.
TIGER SEASON LEADERS
Rushing— Brooks 149-934 13 TD, Ramey 72-305, Hayes 26-148 TD, Coats 6-36, Dansby 8-24, David 1-5, Burgess 2-6, Castilleja 2-3, Gibbs 8-(-8), Brinkley 28-(-45) 3TD, Baldivia 2-32.
Passing—Brinkley 113-201-11, 1,531 yards, 12 TD; Gibbs 26-64-2, 381 yards, 4TD.
Receiving—Caffey 30-348 4TD, Loth 26-398 4TD, Gibbs 22-390 4TD, Burgess 17-148, Baldavia 6-138 TD, Walton 7-187 TD, Ramey 5-21, Ford 3-49 TD, Trejo 6-102 TD, Burton 4-37, Dean 1-16, Brooks 2-24, Whitsel 2-23, Gates 1-12, David 2-18, Hernandez 1-9, Hayes 1-7.
Tackles—Hayes 127, David 119, Coates 88, Caffey 75, Trejo 50, Ehler 43, Dansby 44, Gibbs 43, Baldavia 32, Hernandez 29, Heintze 28.