The Orioles had a hard time swallowing this one.
After the players shook hands along the 50 yard line, the Orioles were stunned as they headed to the end zone for the team huddle with looks of dejection on their faces.
Augusta took advantage of two defensive turnovers and led Rose Hill 26-5 late in the second quarter. But the Rockets sparked a furious rally right from the second-half kickoff as they came back to shock Augusta 32-26 Friday night at Hillier Stadium. The crucial game means the Orioles will have to beat both Trinity Academy and Collegiate to have a shot at the playoffs.
"My hat's off to Rose Hill. They came back in the second half. Their kids fought harder and they wanted it more," coach Roger Robben said. "We didn't do what we were coached to do. We had a ton of breakdowns in the second half."
Despite all the big plays Augusta made in the first half, Rose Hill coach Ray Boese stayed patient with the run game, cleaned up some things on defense and stopped turning over the ball.
"They got the two fades over the top and the two pick-sixes, so we really kind of hurt ourselves there," Boese said. "Maybe my game plan was a little too bland...but we had to do what we had to do.
"I think the guys just wanted to win," he added. "They realized that Augusta is a really good team, and they've got some good players and they can move the ball offensively, so we had to do the same thing."
Augusta got off to a hot start with a big return on the opening kickoff by Chaydon Carter. On the Orioles' third play from scrimmage, quarterback Tristan Finch found Carter on a fade down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
Rose Hill drove 79 yards to Augusta's 1 on its opening possession, but a false start on fourth down led to a short field goal by Christian Helmke, who is one of Rose Hill's better soccer players, as well.
The Orioles later had a high snap that rolled into their own end zone, where Finch was forced to kick it out of bounds and take a safety to make it 7-5.
After a couple stops by both teams, the Orioles starting making impact plays on defense. Cornerback Brandon Smith made a perfect read and jumped a Brett Bonar pass and took it 80 yards the other way for an Oriole touchdown and a 14-5 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
The Orioles finally mounted another long drive, but it ended with a fumble on the snap that was recovered by Rose Hill's Bailey Rushing.
The Orioles' stepped up again on defense. They stripped the ball loose on a run play and Connor Hurst recovered it. That set up a 24-yard touchdown pass from Finch to Hurst, who did a toe tap at the back of the end zone for the score and a 20-5 lead.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, Hurst tipped a pass, and Finch picked it out of the air and ran it back 52 yards as the Orioles seemingly seized control with a 26-5 lead after putting up 19 points in the quarter.
But Rose Hill quietly stayed patient. The Rockets quickly drove down the field a couple minutes before halftime and added a 33-yard field goal from Helmke to cut it to 26-8. Robben said he wanted to see the Orioles play better with the lead and put the pedal to the metal, but instead they did just the opposite.
"Really, before the end of the first half, it was becoming clear that our guys were not putting that foot down and finishing," Robben said.
The Rockets made another big play on special teams when freshman Griffin McBride returned the opening second-half kickoff to Augusta's 20. Garrett Forsberg scored on the next play to cut it to 26-14 with just 20 seconds elapsed in the third quarter.
"I think we knew we could do it. We just needed that little shot in the arm there at the beginning," Boese said of making the comeback.
From there on, it was almost all Rose Hill. Forberg took over the game with chunk runs up the middle as the Rockets' offense kicked into high gear. Forsberg finished with 226 yards on 27 carries, 163 of which came in the second half. He had five carries for more than 10 yards, three for 20 or more.
"When the chips are down, he wants to get the ball and he wants to do everything possible to win," Boese said of Forsberg. "From freshman year, and when he was a 7th-grader, he's always been a competitor."
Boese said the Orioles attacked the middle of the Rockets' even sets. When they went to their rub sets, the Orioles rushed the edges, and the Rockets came back to attack the middle of the field with a lot of success.
"We tried to take what they gave us," Boese said.
Rose Hill cut Augusta's lead to 26-21 on a five-yard touchdown run by Logan Gardner. Early in the fourth quarter, Rose Hill cut it to 26-24 on a 33-yard field goal, Helmke's third of the game.
Augusta's offense finally mounted a big drive in the second half, but the Orioles came up short on a fake field goal and turned it over at the 15.
On the next play, McBride busted loose for an 85-yard run to paydirt to give the Rockets their first lead.
Augusta's final drive was a good one. Finch had scrambles of eight and 11 yards, and the Rockets committed a face mask as the Orioles got to their 45. But the Oriole drive stalled after they couldn't stave off Rose Hill's pressure.
"We've had problems up front all year," Robben said.
For Augusta, the loss means next week's game at Wichita Trinity is a must-win.
"The main point I made to them was you've got to keep fighting and coming back," Robben said. "Life lessons. You're going to get knocked down, and you've got to learn to keep playing."
Augusta finished with 176 yards of total offense. Hurst had two catches for 37 yards and 20 rushing yards on four carries as he had to relieve Finch, who got shaken up, for a few plays down the stretch.
Caleb Laubhan and Blake Watkins both combined for Augusta's only sack of the game. Finch had 10 tackles to lead the team. Laubhan, Raef Hilt, Greg Slaton and Anthony Castillo all had six tackles for the Orioles.