Nick Romano tried to hang back, deferring to his teammates. But they would have none of it.
Rocky Mountain called for the senior running back to hoist the inaugural Battle of the Mountains trophy Friday night. He’d run for 200 yards and two touchdowns to lead the No. 3-ranked Grizzlies to a 16-6 win over No. 1 Mountain View, including a late 65-yard run that iced the victory.
He stood as the perfect candidate to hoist the rivalry trophy. Romano said he’s all about the team and shies away from individual accolades. But the Grizzlies insisted and let out one final cheer when he stepped forward and lifted the 3-foot trophy ax above his head.
“He works like a dog,” Rocky Mountain coach Chris Culig said. “He’s the strongest player on our team, pound for pound. He’s the fastest player on the team. He’s not a very good talker, but he does everything by example and works his tail off. To me, that (ax) represents someone who keeps grinding.”
Romano opened the scoring with a 2-yard TD run in the third quarter, then plunged a dagger into Mountain View’s comeback chances when he broke loose on third-and-2 for a 65-yard TD run with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game.
His night came alongside a breakout performance from the Rocky Mountain defense. Mountain View returned six offensive starters from the league’s top offense last season, but the Grizzlies held the high-flying Mavericks to 208 total yards and six points, their fewest in 45 games.
The last team to hold Mountain View to six points or fewer was Rocky Mountain in a Sept. 5, 2014, victory.
“We’re not a very big team, but our strength is speed,” Rocky Mountain senior linebacker Joe Strickland said. “We really worked that well against their offense. Our coach put in some really good blitz plays, and they had no idea what was coming.”
Strickland showed that himself when he dropped Mountain View’s Jaymon Barrus for a safety. On the ensuing kickoff after Romano’s opening score, Mountain View’s Blake Jablonski caught the ball and stepped out at the 1-yard line. Sensing blood in the water, Strickland crashed from his position as the backside linebacker on the next play and pounced on Barrus in the end zone.
Mountain View threatened when Colby Peugh hauled in a 26-yard TD pass from Noah Bryant with 29 seconds left in the third quarter. But a plethora of mental mistakes kept Mountain View from breaking through the Grizzlies’ defense.
Mountain View had a 38-yard TD run by Barrus called back in the first quarter due to a holding plenty. Jablonski then set up the safety by running out at the 1-yard line. And an ineligible lineman downfield wiped out a key third-down conversion as Mountain View mounted a late drive.
“We just made way too mistakes to be competitive,” Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said. “And that’s not taking anything away from them. They did a great job and had a really good game plan. Their kids played hard and made plays, but I think we’d at least have a better chance to be in it. They were costly. They were big.”
The win gives Rocky Mountain an early edge in the 5A SIC race. Mountain View was the preseason favorite with Rocky Mountain picked second. But eight weeks remain in the season, making anything still possible.
“It’s going to give us big momentum,” Romano said of the victory. “(With Mountain View) always being a big rival of ours, it’s a good statement game first week of the season. We’re just going to try to roll that into Week 2 with Boise.”
ROCKY MTN 16, MTN VIEW 6
RM — Nick Romano 2 run (Josh Pratt kick), 7:05
RM — Joe Strickland safety, 7:00
MV — Colby Peugh 26 pass from Noah Bryant (Kyle Hugo kick failed), 0:29
RM — Romano 65 run (Pratt kick), 2:40
RUSHING — Mountain View: Jaymon Barrus 9-50, Noah Bryant 8-(-15), Colby Peugh 1-2, Ace Gibson 10-38, Bronx Barrus 1-(-2), Team 1-(-10). Rocky Mountain: Tre Page 4-0, Colby Jackson 11-(-5), Nick Romano 24-200, Anthony Jacobson 1-1.
PASSING — Mountain View: Bryant 15-23-0 145. Rocky Mountain: Page 1-2-0 11; Jackson 13-22-0 158.
RECEIVING — Mountain View: J. Barrus 1-4, K.J. Lynch 3-47, Kaden Chan 1-10, Blake Jablonski 5-33, Colby Peugh 3-39, Gibson 1-6. Rocky Mountain: Birch 1-8, Justin Jones 3-37, Romano 2-15, Brayden Hamilton 8-109.