It wasn’t until Oneida fell on an onside kick with a minute and a half remaining in Friday’s Region 2-2A game at Jim May Stadium that the Indians could truly feel comfortable. Until that point, Rockwood seemingly had an answer for every Oneida punch, as the Tigers stood toe-to-toe with the Indians despite being an underdog on the road.

In the end, though, Oneida prevailed with a 32-27 victory in the budding rivalry, securing its first back-to-back wins over Rockwood since 1995.

Oneida’s rushing attack was as good as it has been all season. Two players eclipsed the 100-yard mark — Kolby Morgan finished with 177 yards and two scores on 19 carries, while Bryson Buttram had 121 yards and two scores on 17 carries — and the Indians finished with 336 yards on the ground.

But Rockwood battled back behind gutsy quarterback Nate Bracket. The senior completed 10 of 18 passes for 140 yards and a score, and Rockwood added 158t yards on the ground, never allowing Oneida to get more than two touchdowns ahead.

“Defensively, I thought we didn’t play as well as we have at times throughout the season, obviously,” Oneida head coach Tony Lambert said. “When you have some injuries and some new guys have to play and you have some uncertainty, you have some of that. Rockwood didn’t do anything that we hadn’t prepared for. John Webb (Rockwood coach) just did a better job getting his team ready to play than I did. I give him and his staff credit for that.”

Oneida (5-2, 3-0) put together a punishing drive to start the game, going 87 yards in 13 plays before Morgan scored on an 11-yard run, and it looked like the Indians might be able to impose their will on the Tigers.

Bryson Buttram and Elijah West celebrate Buttram’s touchdown late in the second half of Oneida’s 32-27 win over Rockwood at Jim May Stadium on Friday, October 4, 2019 | Sarah Dunlap/IH

But, after an exchange of punts, Rockwood (2-5, 0-2) sparked to life off a fumble that was recovered by Ben Woodall inside Oneida territory. Octavious Worthy scored on an 11-yard run of his own seven plays later, and the Tigers had tied the game.

It stayed that way until halftime — Morgan scored on a 36-yard run in the second quarter, but Rockwood answered by putting together another scoring drive that was capped by Dakota Waldo — before the Indians used a huge break on special teams to start the third quarter.

Trace Sexton returned the second half kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, giving the Indians a 20-14 lead that they would not relinquish. The kick return was the longest in school history, breaking the 54-year-old record of 92 yards, which was set by Mike Swain.

“My first game as a head coach was against Coach Webb and I lost 7-6,” Lambert said. “Special teams cost us that night. What was the spark here tonight? Special teams. What a great job by our guys just laying in there and believing in what we do.”

Later in the third quarter, Buttram scored the first of his two touchdowns, and Oneida finally had some breathing room, up 26-14.

“Our offense played tremendous,” Lambert said. “Our offensive line and our running backs and our receivers did a great job blocking. Elijah (West) did a great job managing the game at quarterback. Hats off to my assistants. I thought they did a tremendous job getting our guys ready.”

Rockwood wasn’t finished, though. The Tigers bounced back to score on a two-yard run by Brackett before the third quarter had ended, cutting the lead to 26-20.

Then, the Tigers had the ball in Oneida territory in the fourth quarter, driving to potentially take the lead with about six minutes remaining. That was before Colby Boyatt, the Indians’ top pass-rusher, introduced himself to Brackett. The Rockwood quarterback had managed to elude a couple of other would-be tacklers deep in the backfield, but Boyatt came up with a big stop, which ultimately forced Rockwood to punt the ball away.

Oneida then marched down the field for another Buttram touchdown, giving itself a 32-20 lead with 4:31 to play.

Again, though, Rockwood clawed back. Brackett completed a seven-yard pass to Worthy for a score with 1:31 remaining, cutting the gap to 32-27. 

But the Tigers only had one first down remaining, and Oneida recovered the ensuing onside kick to hang on for the win. 

With the victory, Oneida will play No. 2 Meigs County for the Region 2-2A championship at Jim May Stadium on October 18.

“We talk about the fiber and fabric of who we are as men,” Lambert said. “Here’s the difference in this week and last week (against Upperman): Last week, we didn’t finish it when we had the opportunity to do it. This week, we finished it. Regardless of how you cut it, we finished the drill.”