ROCKWOOD — Tony Lambert wasn’t very happy after Oneida’s 21-14 loss here Friday night — not with his team, and not with himself.
“I’m just gonna go ahead and take the lead right here. I got out-coached. My team was not prepared,” the Indians’ head coach said after watching his team come up short against the Tigers in a battle for a first round home playoff game.
“From a schematics standpoint, I thought we had a good plan,” Lambert added. “But you gotta make your guys be able to execute. I didn’t do that. I didn’t get my guys ready.”
In an evenly-matched game, Oneida was tantalizingly close to stealing a road win. But, in the end, the Indians came up 12 yards short — or a few seconds short — of at least forcing overtime. The clock expired with Oneida on Rockwood’s 12-yard-line.
Oneida had taken possession on Rockwood’s 24-yard-line with 4:50 remaining and two timeouts. The Indians moved the ball steadily down the field, but used too much time doing so. Even as the chains continued to move, three minutes became two and then one. Finally, the Indians were forced into a passing situation after getting to the Rockwood 14-yard-line. With 10.9 seconds left and facing third down, Oneida used its final time out. Time then ran out when quarterback Noah Buttram was tackled in the field of play.
Kolby Morgan was his usual self, rushing for 164 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and finishing with 223 all-purpose yards. Buttram finished with 69 yards and a touchdown.
In fact, the box score looked like a winning one for Oneida. The Indians had 18 first downs to Rockwood’s 13. The Indians had 260 yards of offense to Rockwood’s 201. The Indians had 239 rushing yards to Rockwood’s 149. The Indians also dominated time of possession.
But Lambert made it clear that the stat sheet didn’t much matter.
“I don’t think we oughta get trophies for not performing the way we should,” he said. “It falls under one category for me: We either won or we lost. I don’t care who’s in the game, I don’t care what the stats are, I don’t care who’s who or what’s what. At the end of the day, either Oneida won or Oneida lost.”
The game largely hinged on two key plays. One was a fumble deep in Oneida territory midway through the third quarter. Rockwood recovered at the 10-yard-line and scored on the very next play. That touchdown turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.
The second was a 49-yard kick return by Rockwood’s explosive playmaker, Jaiden Hannibal. Late in the third quarter, Oneida converted a fake punt with a 31-yard run by Morgan, then scored on a 13-yard run by Buttram to tie the game, 14-14.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Hannibal returned the ball all the way to Oneida’s 36-yard-line, setting up the game-winning touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, it wasn’t the clock management issue or the turnover or even the coverage breakdown on special teams that had Lambert most upset. It was Oneida’s defense. The Tigers averaged only 4 yards per carry — hardly an eye-popping number. But several times they had gaping holes to run through, or broke through arm tackles to pick up additional yards after contact. Rockwood converted half of its third downs.
“(Rockwood) Coach (John) Webb, offensively, got after me, defensively,” Lambert said.
“Some of it’s coaching. It starts with me,” Lambert added. “Some of it’s want-to. You gotta want to get better. You gotta want to be coached. You gotta be able to conform to your coach.”
After a 4-0 start, Oneida has lost back-to-back games by the narrowest of margins, and the road only gets tougher with Division II power King’s Academy visiting Jim May Stadium next, followed by a trip to Meigs County, a team that put 67 points on the board against Rockwood last week.
“I just told them out there, we’ll figure out where we go from here,” Lambert said. “You never know. You lose a game or two and then you’re staring down the barrel of only having a game left, or not having the playoffs. You better go out every night and work on having the memories.
“We’ve got a tough team coming next week,” he added. “We have Meigs down the road, Coalfield down the road. We’ll find out if they want to play. I don’t know. We’ll find out.”
Not everything about Friday’s game was negative. Lambert said his team played hard at times. But he made it clear that there were also lapses in that effort.
“It’s hard to fault the kids that didn’t get in the game,” he said. “Maybe we’re playing kids that don’t need to be playing. Maybe we need to play other kids. If you surveyed yourself, did you play with the effort that would be considered the winning effort? Sometimes we didn’t get there.
“It’s tough, it’s hard, but at the end of the day, it’s a ballgame,” Lambert added. “I want to use this as a life-teaching moment. It should hurt. But I’ll be honest: I’m not so sure how bad that hurt us.”