There was no raucous midfield celebration after Larkin won the Town Jug trophy for the third straight season with a convincing 46-28 victory over rival Elgin at Memorial Field Friday night.
Captains Kemmerin Blalark and Alex Duran calmly accepted the Town Jug and the Royals exchanged high fives and hand shakes, took pictures with their trophy and generally exhaled. Though retaining the trophy was important to every player dressed in royal blue and white, keeping it on the city's west side was secondary to the ultimate goal.
"We plan on going to the playoffs, so we've got bigger goals," said Larkin senior running back Damion "Bubba" Clemons, who rushed 21 times for a game-high 172 yards and 3 touchdowns. "We have to get better offensively, Defensively, we have to make more tackles. That's the only way we're going to make it."
Bubba blew up on his first touch. With Larkin facing third-and-7, Clemons took a handoff on a zone read, raced up the seam and cut back at the Elgin 30-yard line to make a tackler miss on his way to a 64-yard scoring play.
Dante Bonds caught a 2-point pass from quarterback Kemmerin Blalark to give Larkin (2-1, 1-0 Upstate Eight River) an 8-0 lead 94 seconds into the game.
Elgin (0-3, 0-1) did itself no favors by turning the ball over on its first 2 possessions. In fact, the Maroons lost the turnover battle 4-1. They survived a pair of first-quarter turnovers as the Larkin offense stalled, but the poor field position led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from Blalark to Bonds.
On Elgin's next possession a fumbled exchange between the center and quarterback was scooped up by Ben Cruz and returned 37 yards as Larkin raced to a 22-0 lead with six seconds left in the first quarter.
"We had 4 turnovers," said Elgin senior running back Jaylen Clemons, who rushed for 149 yards and 3 touchdowns on 18 carries . "I had a turnover myself so I can't point the finger."
The Maroons drew within 22-8 when Jaylen Clemons scored on a 2-yard run to cap an 8-play, 61-yard drive and quarterback Ryan Sitter ran in the conversion.
The Royals answered immediately as Jarelle Shipp returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the Elgin 7-yard line. Clemons cashed in 2 plays later on a 2-yard ramble.
Elgin used a 52-yard touchdown run by Jaylen Clemons to pull within 28-14, however, the Royals responded by marching 88 yards in 10 plays, keyed by a 40-yard reception by Shipp and capped by a 2-yard run by Bubba Clemons, as Larkin grabbed a 34-14 halftime lead.
Elgin stayed in the game by scoring on its opening drive of the second half. Jaylen Clemons scored his third touchdown of the game on a 12-yard run up the gut and Sitter's conversion run pulled the Maroons within 34-22.
The Elgin defense forced a Larkin punt, but its offense surrendered momentum by fumbling on the first play of the ensuing drive. Duran, a returning all-conference defensive back for Larkin, stripped the ball from a running back at the Elgin 20-yard line. Larkin scored 5 plays later on a 6-yard run from senior Cameron Tomlin, the first of his 2 second-half touchdowns.
"In the first half they fumbled too easy, so in the second half we started trying to strip them," Duran said. "Especially since it was close in the second half after they came out strong. We had to come up with a big turnover."
"We come out and score, stop them, then fumble," first-year Elgin coach Kyle Rohde said. "That kills your second-half momentum right there and builds theirs completely up."
Larkin outgained the Maroons 408 yards to 353 in taking a 33-18 lead in the all-time varsity series.
"This is what the town needs, a good, tough game with all the kids playing hard all the way through," Larkin coach Mike Scianna said. "It looked like every kid on both teams got to play in a game that means something. They'll all have something to talk about later in life."