Knoch Coach Mike King smiled as he held the game ball. The choice for whom to give it was apparent as he tossed it to running back Tim McNerney.
It would have been fitting had the junior tailback took off down field with the ball.
McNerney ran for 231 yards and four touchdowns as the Knights defeated Ringgold in a 39-29 road victory.
Knoch’s leading rusher Alex Whisler was injured during a first half kickoff and never carried the ball. But even Ringgold mentor Jeff Petrucci recognized the Knights’ backfield depth.
“I made the comment that the last guy I wanted to see was number five in the backfield,” Petrucci would say after the game. “Every time he touched the ball, he made positive yards.”
But not everything looked good for Knoch early.
Ringgold scored first, taking the opening kickoff and driving 69 yards in five plays with Cecil Tartt running it in from eight yards out. Ringgold fumbled the snap on the conversion, but Jordan Fowler scooped up the ball and passed to David Bassi for an 8-0 lead.
It seemingly went from bad to worse for the visitors when Whisler injured his knee on the ensuing kickoff.
Knoch went on a 16-play, 71-yard drive. Kevin Brodeur scored from a yard out and Zach Gross ran the ball in for the 2-point conversion.
That’s when McNerney took over. He scored on a 32-yard run after the Rams went three and out.
The teams traded punts, but the Rams were pinned down on their own 5 after a 59-yard punt.
The Rams converted a fourth and 1 from their own 15, but the gamble didn’t produce any points. Later in the drive, John Elkhart picked off a Fowler pass and returned it to the Rams 43. It took the visitors just five plays to score from there, the last 9 yards by McNerney.
The Rams pulled to within a touchdown just before half. Jake Spaziani pulled in a Fowler pass from 5 yards out with 45 seconds to cap an 11-play, 61 yards drive.
The game turned in the second half on a pair of fumbles by the home team, one that thwarted a touchdown and another that set the Knights up for a score.
Ringgold seemingly pulled to within 23-18 with a field goal early in the third stanza. But a roughing-the-kicker penalty set the Rams up for a first and goal. However, a bad pitch on second and goal cased a fumble that Knoch recovered on its own 18.
When the Knights’ drive stalled, they punted. But Tyler Patch couldn’t handle the kick and the Knights had the ball on Ringgold 29. Just before the third quarter ended, McNerney scored his third touchdown, this time from 16 yards away, and the visitors had a two-touchdown lead.
Ringgold pulled to within 7 when Bassi caught a 6-yard scoring pass.
But every time the Rams got close, the Knights pulled away. McNerney scored from 38 yards out to make the score 36-22.
Again the Rams answered, this time with Spaziani pulling in an 18-yard scoring strike.
But in the end, the Rams could not stop McNerney. He raced 51 yards on second and 4 to set up a 25-yard Kevin Wood field goal.
The Rams’ final drive was ended by an interception. The culprit was McNerney.
King said he felt his team could run against the Rams, but was a little concerned when the home team got the early lead.
“The big question when they came out quickly was whether we could line up and play our game,” King said. “I kept waiting for McNerney to run out of steam, but he never did. He was a Superman tonight.”
Petrucci said he is pleased to see his team improving. But he recognized that the two third quarter fumbles were the turning point.
“We kind of beat ourselves, not to take anything away from Knoch,” Petrucci said. “This was one of those games where you get outscored, but not beaten.”