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POPLAR GROVE — The season ended too soon for Burlington Central.
The Rockets ended the year on a roll, winning 3 of their last 4 after knocking North Boone out of playoff contention with a 28-14 victory Friday night.
Both teams finished 4-5 and 3-3 in the Big Northern East.
Casey Matthews was an all-around standout for the Rockets, passing for 168 yards and a touchdown, rushing for 154 yards and another score, and intercepting 2 passes on defense. Reilly Marino added 126 rushing yards and a TD.
But it was the Rockets' defense that dominated. After allowing a pair of first-quarter touchdowns, the Rockets shutout the Vikings' high-powered offense the rest of the way. They intercepted Vikings' quarterback Nathan Bodey 3 times, sacked him 3 times, and forced a fumble.
That fumble got the Rockets off on the right foot. On North Boone's first play from scrimmage, Craig Kein came out of a scrum with the ball and ran it back 33 yards, putting the Rockets ahead just 16 seconds into the game.
Bodey led the Vikings to scores on their next two possessions, giving them the lead, but that was it for North Boone's offense. Matthews and the Rockets took over from there.
The Rockets were already eliminated from playoff contention, but didn't brood about it.
"Our kids played hard," said Central coach Rich Crabel. "We just made a little adjustment there. They practiced really hard the last week. They knew they couldn't get into the playoffs, but they came to practice every day and worked really hard. You can't ask any more of them."
The Rockets tied it up late in the first quarter when Matthews tossed a 10-yard pass to Ian Napiorkowski, who finished with 6 catches for 128 yards. They took the lead for good by blocking a punt out of the end zone for a safety. Two plays after the ensuing free kick, Matthews kept it himself and wove through the defense for a 59-yard score.
Marino scored the only points of the second half, barreling in from 3 yards out to give the Rockets some insurance.
Central could have had more points, but missed some opportunities. Matthews was stopped a yard short of the goal line on a fake field goal, and later missed a 32-yard attempt. In the second half, the Rockets failed to score after having first-and-goal at the North Boone 21.