MENDOTA - On Mendota's first offensive play, running back Kurtis Knapp lost a fumble after a 7-yard gain.

It was not a sign of how the night would go.

Knapp ran for a 3-yard gain on his next carry before breaking free for long touchdown runs on his next three attempts.

Knapp sprinted through the Rock Falls defense for touchdowns of 38, 44 and 18 yards in the first quarter to start a 55-8 rout of the Rockets at Doenier Field.

"First thing we said when we came out is we have to cover the ball and take care of it, then we puked it up the first time," Mendota coach John McKenzie said. "But I thought our kids came out focused and played awfully well."

Knapp didn't have all the fun running the ball.

Senior Alex Caruso, who started the season at fullback but is now playing wing back, broke a counter for a 14-yard touchdown and later ran in from 24 yards out in the second.

Fullback Robert Watson helped set up Caruso's second touchdown when he dragged five Rock Falls defenders for a 13-yard gain.

Knapp also caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Fritz to give the Trojans a 41-0 lead with 58 seconds left in the half. Mendota led 41-8 at the break.

"We ran some counter backs," McKenzie said. "They seemed to be overloading a little bit. The counter back worked real well. We ran some off tackle traps that we got some good things out of. The kids are blocking well on the edge. The offensive line is sealing things inside. Kurtis and Alex made some great runs. The other thing is, Robert is a pounder inside. You have to keep people inside to watch him. Right now, we're really balanced."

Two of Mendota's first half scores were set up by turnovers.

Following Knapp's 45-yard touchdown run, Watson put a hard hit on the Rock Falls return man to jar the ball loose. Mendota linebacker Zach Lewis pounced on the ball to give Mendota a short field and Knapp capitalized with his 18-yard score.

Watson came up big again late in the first quarter as he intercepted a pass after Rock Falls quarterback Dylan Koeppen was pressured by Jeremy Eich. Watson returned the ball to the Rocket 31-yard line. Five plays later Caruso scored for a 26-0 lead.

"When you look at a score like (Friday's), you know turnovers are happening because that's where you get your quick scores," McKenzie said. "We were up 14-0 when we got the turnover off the kickoff. On the interception we came back and got another one. That's when things start to land slide. Those things happen because defense and special teams are playing really well. Our kickoff coverage has been really solid. Jordan is booting the heck out of the ball. When you pin people deep and they have to go 70-80 yards, it's awfully tough to get things going."

The Rockets never got much going, especially in the running game.

Of Rock Falls' seven first half drives, five ended on punts - four after three plays - one ended on an interception and one on a touchdown.

The Rockets' lone scoring drive came just before the half. Koeppen hit Brennan Coward for a 45-yard gain, then found Coward again for a 10-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 2 seconds left.

Mendota held the Rockets to just 99 total yards, including 13 yards on 23 carries. The Trojans had 12 tackles for loss.

"I think we were just really aggressive. We played a little man-to-man coverage in the secondary and decided to go after them," McKenzie said. "I thought they had a real hard time blocking our interior people. When you have a hard time blocking them, chances are linebackers are going to be getting through there, too. It's pretty hard to throw the ball in this kind of rain. It's hard to get it downfield. Our kids really tightened things up on coverage and were making plays."

Caruso broke free for a 50-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half to start the running clock. Josh Highsmith scored in the fourth.

The 47-point win was unusual for the Mendota-Rock Falls game, especially in recent years. Last season, the game was scoreless at half before Mendota won 22-0. Two years ago, Mendota won 13-6, and in 2006, the Rockets beat Mendota 17-6 for one of only two wins on the season.

"I think we kind of overwhelmed Rock Falls," McKenzie said. "I was very pleasantly surprised. I thought maybe we'd have a let down after the Hall game, but our kids are pretty focused right now."

n Note: The Mendota sophomores won 31-6.

Kevin Chlum can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 138, or at sports@newstrib.com.

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